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Behrooz Parhami's Blog & Books Page

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Page last updated on 2019 April 21

This page was created in 2009 as an outgrowth of the section entitled "Books Read or Heard" in my personal page. The rapid expansion of the list of books warranted devoting a separate page to it. Given that the book introductions and reviews constituted a form of personal blog, I decided to title this page "Blog & Books," to also allow discussion of interesting topics unrelated to books from time to time. Lately, non-book items (such as political news, tech news, puzzles, oddities, trivia, humor, art, and music) have formed the vast majority of the entries.

Entries in each section appear in reverse chronological order.

Blog entries for 2019
Blog entries for 2018
Blog entries for 2017
Blog entries for 2016
Archived blogs for 2015
Archived blogs for 2014
Archived blogs for 2012-13
Archived blogs up to 2011

Blog Entries for 2019

2019/04/21 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A restaurant in Tehran, Iran (photo by Navid Fatehpour) A food-truck owner is criticized for advertising a T-Shirt that says, 'I support LGBTQ. Liberty, guns, bible, Trump, BBQ' All smiles, while taking a shoe-selfie! (1) Images of the day: [Left] A restaurant in Tehran, Iran (photo by Navid Fatehpour). [Center] Insensitivity to the extreme: A food-truck owner is criticized for advertising a T-Shirt that says, "I support LGBTQ. Liberty, guns, bible, Trump, BBQ." [Right] All smiles, while taking a shoe-selfie!
(2) Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival 2019 (49th annual; Alameda Park): Friday 4/26, 5:00 PM, concert only (no booths); Saturday-Sunday 4/27-28, 11:00 AM, booths and various programs. [Image]
(3) UCLA Bilingual Lectures on Iran: On Sunday, May 19, 2019, at 3:30 PM, a Karestan documentary film entitled "Mother of the Earth" will be screened (UCLA Dodd Hall 121; in Persian, with English subtitles). The film highlights the sustainability efforts of Hayedeh Shirzadi and her husband, whose work has led to 100% of the city of Kermanshah's garbage being recycled and its biowaste converted into organic fertilizers. Film director Rakhsan Banietemad and film producer Mojtaba Mirtahmasb will participate in a post-screening discussion, in Persian, moderated by Dr. Nayereh Tohidi. [Flyer]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Easter attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka leave more than 200 dead.
- It's not just the 737 Max: A second Boeing jet is under scrutiny for shoddy production.
- Which is it Donald? Does Mueller's report exonerate you or is it a bunch of bullshit? Can't have it both ways!
- Why does the media give Giuliani or Conway a platform for spreading lies on behalf of the big conman?
- Several late-night show hosts form exploratory committees after TV comedian is elected president of Ukraine.
- With clean-up efforts ongoing after the floods that affected 10M people, Iranians brace for more rain.
- Pakistan accuses Iran in deadly cross-border attack that killed 14; Pakistani PM in Iran for talks.
- Boxer Sadaf Khadem cancels plans for returning to Iran after authorities issue arrest warrant for her.
(5) A technical assessment of Mueller's report: The released PDF file isn't searchable and it has low quality, because it was not electronically redacted, but scanned after redaction.
(6) The boundary between Russia's government and the country's criminal gangs/hackers has all but disappeared: An eye-opening report from CBS' "60 Minutes," broadcast this evening.
(7) A beautiful and bright spring day on the UCSB campus, with the magical sound of the Storke Tower carillon: Recital by Wesley Arai, UCSB Department of Music. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]

2019/04/20 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Colossus firefighting robot (1) Paris firefighters' secret weapon during the Notre Dame fire: They used Colossus, an 1100-pound, tank-like robot to mitigate damage to the cathedral and prevent the conflagration from spreading further, by entering environments too hazardous for humans. The battery-powered robot has a motorized water cannon, is waterproof and fireproof, and tolerates thermal radiation. It also can crawl up stairs, and be outfitted with cameras, sensors, and a smoke-extracting fan.
(2) Trump's approval ratings in March-April 2019, according to Reuters. AG Barr circulates 4-page summary of Mueller's report, 43%; Mid-April 2019, 40%; AG Barr releases redacted form of Mueller's report, 37%.
(3) Isn't it ironic that the only person from the corrupt Trump Organization who will serve jail time is Michael Cohen? He is a liar no doubt, but his lies are dwarfed by Trump's and those of other members of his family.
(4) Boston Dynamics set to market its "SpotMini" robotic dog: The robot can be used for patrol duties within buildings. A recently released video shows a herd of such robots pulling a truck down the street with ease.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- be grateful for Robert Mueller and the unlikely heroes who stood up to Trump's illegal/immoral demands.
- This 3-minute video features people from all races and walks of life, aged 0 to 100.
- Life on Earth, seen through the lens of National Geographic. [Pictorial]
- Finally, fake videos are used to spread the message of love and unity, instead of hatred and division!
- The beloved Persian song "Ey Iran," performed wonderfully as a tribute to Mohammad Nouri.
(6) Senator Rand Paul schools Mike Pompeo: This 7-minute video clip from a Senate hearing is rather old, but its message remains fresh. Paul, with whom I disagree on many issues, reminds Pompeo that the US cannot expect Iran to disarm unilaterally, while we arm Saudi Arabia to the teeth. Similarly, it is bizarre to demand that Iran not meddle in Yemen, without also chiding Saudi Arabia for the humanitarian crisis it has created there through indiscriminate bombing.
(7) Ten instances that constitute obstruction of justice, according to Mueller's report: Here's a summary. * Campaign's response to reports on Russian support for Trump * Conduct involving Comey and Michael Flynn * Trump's reaction to the Russia investigation * Firing of Comey and attendant explanations * Efforts to remove Special Counsel Mueller * Efforts to prevent public disclosure of evidence * Asking the AG to take control of the investigation * Asking McGahn to deny attempted removal of Mueller * Conduct towards Flynn and Manafort * Conduct involving Michael Cohen
(8) A key step toward realizing biocomputers: ETH Zurich researchers have integrated two CRISPR-Cas9-based core processors into human cells, marking a significant advance toward creating powerful biocomputers. A special variant of the Cas9 protein forms the core of the processor. In response to input delivered by guide RNA sequences, the CPU regulates the expression of a specific gene, which then makes a particular protein. The method allows researchers to program scalable circuits in human cells, consisting of two inputs and two outputs that can add two single-digit binary numbers. The cell computer could be used to detect biological signals in the body, process them, and respond accordingly.

2019/04/19 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Books wrapped in barbed-wire: Art by Dusko Vukic A very happy Passover and Easter to everyone! AG Bill Barr redacts Dickens' 'A Tale of Two Cities' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Books wrapped in barbed-wire: Art by Dusko Vukic. [Center] A very happy Passover to all those who observe this Jewish holiday. Chag Sameach! And happy Easter to my Christian readers. (See item 2 below) [Right] Before tackling Mueller's report, Bill Barr practiced his redaction skills on Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.
(2) Happy Passover! This year, Passover and Easter coincide. The two holidays have common roots and similar traditions, but they can be separated by up to a month in some years. Passover, a spring Jewish festival, is observed based on the lunar calendar. To ensure that the holiday is synchronized with spring, the Jewish calendar adds a 13th month, Adar 2, to some years in order to make up for the 11-day difference between the lengths of lunar and solar years. This article has a nice explanation of the pertinent calendar adjustments.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Weaponizing drones is quite dangerous, so we must be very cautious about what we allow in this domain.
- The frightening power of water in river-rapids and waterfalls. [3-minute video]
- Unusual art: Painting blind-folded, upside-down, or sideways. [4-minute video]
- Turning the lowly egg into many interesting meals. [5-minute video]
(4) Proud to be a member of the UCSB community: The focus of last Thursday's meeting of UCSBs Faculty Legislature was awards and honors (even in the Chancellor's report).
- Faculty Research Lecturer: Nelson Lichtenstein (History)
- Faculty Diversity Award: Diane C. Fujino (Asian American Studies)
- Distinguished Teaching Awards: Six faculty members, all women.
- Distinguished Teaching Awards: Four TAs, all women.
- Graduate Mentor Award: Three faculty members, all women.
[Note that in a stunning sweep, all 10 teaching awards and all 3 graduate mentorship awards went to women!]
In his report to the campus, Chancellor Yang mentioned a number of important UCSB faculty honors: A Pulitzer Prize won by Jeffrey C. Stewart (Black Studies) for his book The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, memberships in national academies, and many more.
(5) This afternoon's #UCSBGradSlam: Nine graduate-student finalists (7 of them women) presented 3-minute pitches describing their research for a chance to win a $5000 grand prize (George Degen) and a couple of $2500 runner-up prizes (Zachary Reitz; Taylor Heisley-Cook). The other 6 finalists got $750 each. [Photos] After the competition, there was a reception along with musical entertainment. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]

2019/04/18 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A woman carrying a child in a basket over her head during Iran's recent floods Iranian boxer Sadaf Khadem's victory on the world stage is a first for Iranian women Meme of the day on women's rights and gender equality (1) Images of the day about women: [Left] During Iran's recent floods, a member of "the weaker sex" proves that the term is an oxymoron! [Center] Iranian boxer Sadaf Khadem's victory on the world stage is a first for Iranian women. [Right] On women's rights and gender equality.
(2) Bernie Sanders was a hit with the crowd at Fox News' town hall: Trump's reaction was bizarre, as if Fox News were a spouse who had been unfaithful to him!
(3) Iran used the Red Crescent (a humanitarian relief organization, similar to the Red Cross) as cover for Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps operations in Europe, a retired Guards commander claims.
(4) I feel obligated to make a post about the redacted Mueller report released today, but I will wait for a day or two, until all the details have been analyzed and understood. [448-page document, accessible via this link]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Doctors in five US states charged with prescribing pain killers in exchange for cash and sex.
- Ivanka Trump says she declined World Bank job: She was considered because "she is good with numbers"!
- Canadians are advised to drink and not drive, now that beer is cheaper than gas! [Photo]
- Persian music: An old-style song whose lyrics also tell of a longing for the simpler, more joyful past.
(6) Last evening's technical meeting, sponsored by IEEE Central Coast Section: Dr. Pradeep Sen (UCSB) spoke under the title "Monte Carlo Denoising." Monte Carlo path-tracing replaces the very large number of computations, needed to determine the lighting of each image pixel by tracing all possible paths from different light sources to the pixel, by a random sampling of those paths. While this approach reduces the amount of computation significantly, it also makes the image quite noisy and thus unsuitable for "final frame" output. Even though Monte Carlo path-tracing was suggested as early as the 1980s, practical applications did not materialize until a few years ago, when effective and computationally efficient denoising techniques were devised. These new techniques had to overcome the difficulty of distinguishing random noise from scene details (such as texture) that can also look "noisy." The Monte Carlo denoising revolution is now recognized as one of two key enabling technologies that brought path-tracing to feature-film production at Disney and elsewhere. Despite significant improvements in the speed of denoising, which now allows rendering to occur in minutes rather than days or weeks, more work is still needed to bring rendering to real-time speed, which would be needed if virtual-reality exploration of buildings and other scenes, represented by 3D models, were to become possible. [IEEE Central Coast Section event page] [IEEE CCS calendar of lectures] [The speaker's home page]

2019/04/16 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme: A page from the redacted Mueller report! Meme: This is the US President! Humor: Suggested letter for requesting Trump's tax returns (1) Memes of the day: [Left] A page from the redacted Mueller report! [Center] This is the US President! [Right] Tax humor, a day after Tax Day: Comedian Seth Myers suggests that the Democrats might have a better chance of getting Trump's tax returns if they use his English syntax and vocabulary in their request.
(2) Joke circulating in Iran after the unprecedented flooding: If only all the officials and reporters interviewing while standing in floodwaters got out of the water, the water level would go back to normal!
(3) A report on academic research into the old Iranian radio program "Golha" ("Flowers") and its successors such as "Golha-ye Rangaarang" ("Flowers of Many Colors"), which featured poetry and music
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Notre Dame Cathedral burned intensely, but the damage, though substantial, was less than expected.
- Besides Notre Dame, three other major losses occurred on April 15 (and I'm not even counting Tax Day)!
- The announcements board outside my office, as recently updated. [Photo]
- Nostalgia: Tehran of 1980, a year after the Islamic Revolution. [6-minute video]
- Persian music: Old-time singer Aref performs "Donya Do Roozeh" ("Life Is Very Short").
- Azeri music & dance: Joyful, rhythmic tune brings about some impressive dance moves! [3-minute video]
(5) Concealed bribe: The father of a current Harvard student bought the $550K house of the school's fencing coach for $990K (a $440K bribe). Harvard is investigating. [Source: Time magazine, issue of April 22, 2019]
(6) Displaying affection: Given that Joe Biden does not plant kisses on men's hair as a way of showing affection, his behavior toward women is at worst creepy, and at best, condescending.
(7) "Where Credit is Due": This is the title of an interesting feature in Time magazine (April 22, 2019) which deals with the achievements of female scientists being ignored or, even worse, wrongly credited to their male collaborators. Esther Lederberg (PhD in biochemistry, U. Wisconsin), is used as a case in point. She collaborated with and co-authored joint papers with her husband Joshua Lederberg, who eventually won a Nobel Prize for his work on upending the notion that bacteria always make identical copies of themselves when they reproduce.

2019/04/14 (Sunday): Reporting on today's lecture in the UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran.
Photo showing Lalehzar Street in its early days Photo of Dr. Ida Meftahi, today's speaker Map of today's central Tehran, showing Lalehzar Street and its vicinity [Images, from left to right: Lalehzar Street in its early days; Dr. Ida Meftahi; Map of today's central Tehran, showing Lalehzar Street (extending from the map's top-center to its bottom-center) and its vicinity. For more images, see my Facebook post of this report, which also includes a Persian version of what follows.]
"Film and Discussion on Lalehzar Street: A Socio-Historical View": This was the title of today's talk by Dr. Ida Meftahi (U. Maryland). [Flyer 1, for today's lecture] [Flyer 2, for tomorrow's English lecture by Dr. Meftahi on a different topic]
Dr. Meftahi, who earned her PhD from U. Toronto and does research at the intersections of politics, gender, and performance, is the author of Gender and Dance in Modern Iran: Biopolitics on Stage, and she is now working on another book, a geo-political reading of Tehran's Lalehzar district and its vicinity; in the latter area, she is also directing the Lalehzar Digital Project, introduced in this 4-minute video.
Lalehzar, a relatively narrow north-south street in central Tehran, which runs parallel to the broader Sa'adi and Ferdowsi Streets on its east and west, was known as a center of arts and culture for many decades. The name "Lalehzar" means "Tulip-Grove." Theaters, cinemas, cafes, and night clubs, as well as fashion boutiques and other businesses (many of them new to Iran) lined its two sides between Shahreza (now Enghelab) Street on the north, through its intersection with Naderi (now Jomhoori) Avenue, another center of entertainment and commerce, and continuing further to the south.
I remember walking on Lalehzar Street as a young man, window-shopping and people-watching, usually en route to other destinations further south, including an area where there was a concentration of shops specializing in electronics and other tech items. I also frequented the Gutenberg Bookshop in the same general area that offered low-cost English books, printed in Russia, including many titles on science and technology that interested me.
After a brief introduction, Dr. Meftahi screened a 20-minute film composed of footage from Lalehzar Street over the years and commentaries from individuals who worked there or are otherwise familiar with the district.
[Link to the video will be added here when it becomes publicly available.]
For many years, European fashions arrived in Lalehzar boutiques mere days after they were introduced in the West. The bars offered billiards and other games to visitors. Early in the history of Lalehzar district, upper-class Iranians, foreign diplomats, and other dignitaries lived there and foreign embassies were either located there or on nearby streets. Bar and liquor stores operated legally in the pre-Islamic-Revolution days, but, even then, there was always tension and conflict between sellers of liquor and the police.
The period 1941-1953 is characterized by some as the golden era of arts and culture in the Lalehzar district. Foreign governments were engaged in propaganda, often competing with each other in the cultural domain, offering, on occasion, free theater performances and film screenings. Particularly targeted were society and culture influencers who received invitations to lavish parties and were showered with other perks, so as to take advantage of what the foreigners had determined to be a weak spot among Iranians: Praise for Iran's rich culture. The Soviet-sponsored Toudeh Party was particularly active in this domain, although Americans later joined the push.
The presence of allied soldiers led to much negativity in the way Iranians viewed the foreigners. Dancing the tango at night clubs, only a few years after Iranian women were ordered to remove their hijabs, did not sit well with many locals, and law enforcement often gave the operators of such night clubs a hard time. There was much sensitivity among men on Iranian women dancing or going out with foreigners. After the "Bread Riots" and the sensitivities just mentioned, British and other foreign subjects were directed by their governments to lie low and avoid showing up in public.
I am looking forward to perusing the book version of this very interesting talk upon its completion.
Postscript 1: Here is a related 2015 article by Jane Lewisohn (U. London), entitled "The Rise and Fall of Lalehzar, Cultural Center of Tehran in the Mid-Twentieth Century."
Postscript 2: A pictorial, entitled "The Delicious Lalehzar," about food and cafes on the historic street.
Postscript 3: I took these photos on the way to Los Angeles (the hills at Malibu Canyon, my favorite rest stop), and at UCLA's Dickson Court, which is adjacent to Dodd Hall, the lecture venue.

2019/04/13 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A quatrain by Omar Khayyam, 1 A quatrain by Omar Khayyam, 2 A quatrain by Omar Khayyam, 3 (1) Three wonderful quatrains from Omar Khayyam: [Left] English translation from the Web page of Omar Khayyam Poetic-Society ('Parveen' is Persian for 'The Pleiades'): A bull there in the sky they call Parveen, | Another bull beneath the Earth unseen. | Come, open your inner eye like that old sage, | And see the droves of asses in between. [Center] English translation by Sahand Rabbani: Some contemplate the way of piety; | Others assume doubt with certainty. | Suddenly a herald cries from his lair: | "O ignorant souls! neither path is reality." [Right] My English translation: The material things that you eat or wear, | You can be forgiven to pursue or bear. | Beware that all else is worth nothing, | Don't trade your precious life to get a share.
(2) Quote of the day: "This guy thinks he's CEO of America and it's a family-owned company. He doesn't have to answer to anybody." ~ Maine Senator Angus King, on Donald Trump
(3) On-line trolls target Dr. Katie Bouman, the young female scientist whose algorithm helped produce the first-ever image of a black hole. On the positive side, Bouman explains in this video the black-hole image and its significance, as well as what's next on her research agenda.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Should the president we elect in 2020 meet with Trump to seek advice on how to run the country?
- Kim Jong Un gives the US until the end of 2019 to show more flexibility in order to meet with Trump!
- Heart-breaking images of flooding and mud-flow in Iran. [3-minute video]
- World's biggest airplane flies and lands for the first time. [Spece.com report, including a video]
(5) The 10 greatest minds in mathematics: You may prefer to replace some of the names on this list, but their greatness is uncontested. [Pythagoras; Euclid; Archimedes; Euler; Isaac Newton; Carl Friedrich Gauss; Blaise Pascal; John von Neumann; David Hilbert; Alan Turing]
(6) Cash-for-admission is old news to UCLA: A girl, with an unimpressive running speed, was recruited by UCLA's track-and-field program after her parents pledged a $100,000 donation.
(7) An important advance in computer arithmetic: We can all do addition in linear or O(k) time, where k is the number of digits in the operands. The pencil-and-paper algorithm we use for multiplication requires O(k^2) steps. Computers have been using variations of the same algorithm, which is good enough for the kinds of numbers we encounter in everyday life. However, if you need to multiply two 1M-digit numbers, an O(k^2) algorithm needs on the order of 1 trillion steps. Beginning with the work of Anatoly Karatsuba and continuing with Arnold Schonhage, Volker Strassen, and many others, the complexity of multiplication was reduced to O(k log k log log k) and even less. It was conjectured that one can reach O(k log k), but no one knew how to achieve this optimal lower bound. The status of the 5-decade-old open problem changed in March 2019, when an algorithm achieving the lower bound was demonstrated by David Harvey and Joris van der Hoeven. I happen to be teaching a graduate course on computer arithmetic this quarter and am excited to share this news with my students, when we reach the topic of multiplication next week!

2019/04/12 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme about the contributions of Dr. Katie Bouman to producing the first-ever image of a black hole Images of #WhiteWednesdays, when Iranian women wear white headscarves and remove them in public in the face of arrests and imprisonments for doing so Enjoying a pleasant spring day in my courtyard (1) Images of the day: [Left] Even when women are praised for their contributions, sexism and condescension prevail. Someone fixed this meme to show greater respect! [Center] Kudos to Iranian women, who continue to defy misogynistic norms and attitudes by wearing white headscarves on #WhiteWednesdays and removing them in public in the face of arrests and imprisonments for doing so. [Right] Enjoying a pleasant, though a tad windy, spring day in my courtyard: If you have a beat-up, discolored, round lawn/patio table, I recommend the tile-patterned plastic cover that I have used to renovate it at a fraction of the cost of buying a new one.
(2) Try to imagine the cruelty: Trump wanted to capture asylum-seekers and drop them off at sanctuary cities. That is, he wanted to release hardened criminals (his characterization) among Americans who happen to disagree with his policies.
(3) Here are a few riddles for you (Source: AARP Bulletin, issue of April 2019):
- Q: Why should you never date tennis players? A: Love means nothing to them.
- Q: How do you weigh a millennial? A: In Instagrams.
- Q: What do you call a bike that tries to run you down every single day? A: A vicious cycle!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Pope Francis kisses the shoes of warring leaders in South Sudan in hopes of easing the conflict.
- What happened to the draining of the swamp? [Meme credit: @Public_Citizen]
- Using virtual reality to overcome phobias: One example is fear of public speaking.
- If someone you know suffers from anemia (low count of red blood cells), you may find this article helpful.
- Considering going to this music/poetry event, featuring work by Mowlavi (Rumi), on May 11.
- Santa Barbara Independent celebrates UCSB's Arts and Lectures program. [Cover image]
(5) Our country's story reads like a mystery novel: Based on the initial plot line, we thought Robert Mueller will call out Trump for his illegal acts, but he punted, leaving everyone bemused. It seemed that Rod Rosenstein was on the verge of being fired by Trump multiple times, but now he is defending Trump and his stooge AG Bill Barr. In an earlier plot twist, Senator Lindsey Graham switched from a harsh Trump critic to a stern supporter. Stay tuned, it's not over!

2019/04/11 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Golestan Palace Museum, Tehran, Iran What do you think of the suggestion that Facebook should add a skeptical emoji? Horseshoe Bend on Colorado River, near Grand Canyon, Arizona (1) Images of the day: [Left] Golestan Palace Museum, Tehran. [Center] What do you think of the suggested skeptical emoji for Facebook? [Right] Horseshoe Bend on Colorado River, near Grand Canyon, Arizona.
(2) An Iranian official's emergency management approach in the wake of unprecedented flooding in vast areas of the country: Putting Karbala's dirt on floodwaters to blunt their impact!
(3) Yasaman Aryani, who dared to remove her headscarf in public and handed flowers to hijab-wearing women as a sign of solidarity, has been arrested in Iran.
(4) Julian Assange of WikiLeaks arrested in London after Ecuador pulled asylum protection from him: Assange did not leak info for transparency but had a political agenda. He leaked selectively, never exposed his allies, and timed the leaks to coincide with political events. I don't consider him a hero or a defender of free speech but an egotist who tried to play king-maker and lost.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Sudan's military takes over in a coup, ousting Omar al-Bashir in the wake of months of protests.
- Ex-Pope Benedict XVI blames the sexual revolution and liberals for the church's sex abuse troubles.
- Jessica Powell, former Communications Director at Google, pens novel about male ego in Silicon Valley.
- NASA announces three finalists in its Mars habitat design competition.
- Malware in hospital computer systems can create fake cancerous nodes in CT-scans. [Washington Post]
- Cartoon of the day: "I wish I could get out of this gym membership contract!" [Image]
- Iran's Petroleum Museum: From the first gas station to a variety of gas pumps and other implements.
- "For me, glamour is celebrating what we have instead of what we long for." ~ Actress Isabella Rossellini (66)
(6) Cameras everywhere: US-based airlines have been asked to respond to reports of cameras installed in airplane seat-backs, including whether airlines have used them to monitor passengers and whether passengers have been informed of this practice. The airlines say the cameras are not currently operational, but are part of a new generation of systems offered by Panasonic and Thales, two of the biggest airline entertainment system manufacturers. Panasonic Chief Technology Officer David Bartlett says the devices allow passengers to have the same kind of interactive technology on board the plane that they do on the ground. The Airline Passenger Experience Association, a non-profit whose membership includes airlines, industry suppliers, and media groups, said its members were committed to obtaining customer permission before using the cameras. [Source: NYT]
Elsewhere, there are reports of Tesla installing cameras on its cars' rear-view mirrors, again raising privacy concerns. Tesla has responded that it will use the cameras only for its planned Uber-like service.
(7) It's one thing to mock powerful opposition figures who have ample resources to get back at you and quite another to ridicule the unfortunate and the distraught. [Meme]

2019/04/10 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
CIA's spy pigeon, deployed in the 1970s First-ever picture of a black hole, produced by an array of telescopes The secret to a long, healthy, loving relationship is to continue to sleep together into old age! (1) Images of the day: [Left] Spy pigeons: In the 1970s, CIA developed small cameras, with a tiny motor to advance the film and click the shutter. The cameras were strapped to homing pigeons that would fly over the area of interest en route to their home. Because the pigeons flew much closer to earth than spy planes or satellites, they produced detailed, high-quality information. Details of the camera design and where the pigeons were deployed are still classified (image and info from: IEEE Spectrum, April 2019). [Center] An array of telescopes, dubbed Event Horizon, has brought us the first-ever image of a black hole. Here is an explanation of how the image was produced by the telescopes, each collecting massive amounts of data in 2017; it took 2 years to put the results together to produce an image. [Right] The secret to a long, healthy, loving relationship is to continue to sleep together into old age!
(2) IRGC and terrorism: Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps isn't just a military unit, but a Mafia-like organization with tentacles controlling every aspect of the country's affairs (see this infographic, in which you can enlarge each part to read the details). It functions under direct orders from the Supreme Leader and has its own intelligence and judicial arms (including prisons). Even ignoring its foreign entanglements, IRGC is indeed engaged in terrorism against the Iranian people. Regardless of Trump's motives in declaring IRGC a terrorist organization (and he certainly has no love for the Iranian people), the designation is a correct one.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Calling out a cruel, despicable, amoral Jew isn't anti-Semitism; it's anti-monstrosity!
- The notion that "America is full" is more absurd than all the absurd musings of our unhinged president.
- Let's bring compassion (and good English) back to our leader: Make the Presidency Great Again! [Video]
- Alzheimer's, the new gold mine for scammers: Most purported treatments are bogus. [From AARP Bulletin]
(4) "Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think, and Do": This was the title of tonight's lecture at UCSB's Campbell Hall by Professor Jennifer L. Eberhardt (Stanford U.), based on her just-published book by the same title. Upon winning a MacArthur Genius Grant, Eberhardt decided to broaden the scope and increase the impact of her work by writing for the general public, rather than publishing in scientific journals, where each article garners a handful of readers. The result is her new book, which reports on her own research as well as findings by other scholars. Biases develop quite early in our lives. As early as 3-4 months old, babies exhibit a preference for people of their own race, which isn't surprising, because, in our segregated society, they see mostly people of their own race and learn to recognize and evaluate them better than those with unfamiliar faces. Given our cultural association of crime with blacks, in a setting where people were to decide very quickly whether to shoot at someone holding an object resembling a gun in a presented image, subjects tended to shoot at black suspects more often. And this is true even when the subject was black. Many other examples and case studies were presented throughout the talk and during an interesting Q&A period. The bottom line is that bias is real and very human. People exhibiting bias are not necessarily racist or morally deficient. Developing an awareness of such biases is the only way to remove them in the long run. [Images]

2019/04/09 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A flood-stricken house in Iran's Luristan Province Juicing lemons, with plans to use the juice on salads and to make lemonade Cover image of 'The Wife,' a novel by Alafair Burke (1) Images of the day: [Left] A flood-stricken house in Iran's Luristan Province: Cleaning up the mud that dries to cement-like hardness is a major undertaking. [Center] Juicing lemons, with plans to use the juice on salads and to make lemonade. [Right] Review of Alafair Burke's The Wife: A Novel (see below).
(2) Hate-Monger-in-Chief: An analysis by Washington Post found there was a 226 percent increase in hate crimes in counties that hosted a 2016 Trump campaign rally over those that didn't.
(3) Apologies issued for blocking Iranian scientists: NIH Director Francis Collins has apologized for new, unexplained security measures that blocked two Iranian graduate students from campus after they were asked to disclose their citizenship.
(4) "Towards Networks that Manage Themselves": This was the title of today's talk by Behnaz Arzani, post-doc scholar at Microsoft Research and UCSB CS faculty candidate (MS & PhD from U. Penn; BS from Sharif U. Tech, Tehran, Iran). Data center networks are massive and thus subject to failures. Dr. Arzani's research pursues a 2-step approach to network diagnostics. Her NetPoirot system identifies the type of subsystem responsible for the problem through monitoring coarse-grained TCP statistics. When the network is identified as the culprit, her 007 system pinpoints the device that is at the root of the problem, while quantifying the impact to various applications. An impressive topic and presentation! [Photos]
(5) Book review: Burke, Alafair, The Wife: A Novel, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Xe Sands, Harper Audio, 2018. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I picked this book, thinking that is was the basis for the Oscar-contending film by the same title, with Glenn Close playing the title character. It turns out that the film's script was adapted by Jane Anderson from a Meg Wolitzer novel. The two stories with the same title have little in common, except for their female protagonists questioning their life choices upon getting married to famous, highly successful men. Despite my initial mistake, I wasn't sorry to have picked the book.
This is a thriller/mystery with multiple layers. The husband is accused of sexual misconduct and is subsequently revealed to be a serial philanderer. The wife vacillates between believing her husband, whom she still loves, that he has been framed and trying to get out of the marriage with her share of their assets, before the entire fortune is gobbled up by legal liabilities.
The story is well-conceived and the narrative is absorbing. I listened to this audiobook during my walks between home and office. On multiple occasions, I found myself continuing to listen for a while after arriving at the destination to learn some detail that was unfolding. I really can't write more about this modern "Me Too" domestic thriller a la Gone Girl, without disclosing one of the plot twists that make the book a page-turner.

2019/04/08 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Street art extraordinaire: Photo 1 Street art extraordinaire: Photo 3 Street art extraordinaire: Photo 2
Street art extraordinaire: Photo 4 Street art extraordinaire: Photo 5 Street art extraordinaire: Photo 6 (1) Street art extraordinaire: Artists and locations unknown.
(2) Iranian women's-rights activists to hijab wearers: If you want others to respect you for choosing to wear the hijab, you should respect other women who prefer not to. [Washington Post opinion piece]
(3) The real infighting in the Democratic Party isn't among presidential candidates but between old-guard Nancy Pelosi (2.4M Twitter followers) and newcomer AOC (3.9M followers). [CNN report]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Jewish-Americans offended by Trump referring to Netanyahu as their prime minister.
- Heavenly violin music, featuring David Garrett. [4-minute video]
- Persian music: Shahkar Bineshpajooh performs oldies, with the backdrop of pre-Revolution Iran (CGI?).
- Persian music: Beautiful performance on the bank of Zayandeh-Rood, Isfahan, Iran.
- Kurdish Music: Hassan Zirak performs "Kermanshah, My Sweet Town." [5-minute audio file]
- Coming up in Santa Barbara on May 19, at the historic County Courthouse: CAMA's 100th BD bash
(5) The US has declared Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization: As much as people of Iran want to defend their country against foreign pressure and intervention, they can't close their eyes to beatings, deportations, assassinations, oppression, and imprisonment carried out by IRGC. If these acts do not constitute terrorism, then what does? [Image of tweet by Masih Alinejad, in Persian]
(6) Shake-up at US Department of Homeland Security: Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Secret Service Director Randolph Alles, and other top officials resign or are fired.

2019/04/07 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Grand opening: A Target store finally opens in Santa Barbara Cover image for Abbas Amanat's 'Iran: A Modern History' Photos taken at Beth Macy's lecture entitled 'Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America' (1) Images of the day: [Left] A Target store finally opens in Santa Barbara: This one's a smallish 2-story outfit at the intersection of La Cumbre Road and State Street. A bigger one will soon open in Goleta to replace the recently-closed K-Mart. The nearby La Cumbre Plaza, where Santa Barbara's only Sears store has closed, is also undergoing changes: A Vons supermarket is being replaced by Bristol Farms; Macy's continues to anchor the shopping center. [Center] On my to-read list: Amanat, Abbas, Iran: A Modern History, Yale University Press, 2017. Audio version available from Tantor Audio, narrated by Derek Perkins. (Author's Web page at Yale) (Author's 143-minute interview with Iranian Republic Channel) [Right] Beth Macy's lecture (see item 4)
(2) Former Santa-Barbara-area Channel 3 news anchor Paula Lopez given jail time for drunken driving and other offenses: Lopez is married to retired SB Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa, so, special arrangements had to be made to avoid conflict of interest.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Science in America: The most important words ever spoken by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
- "Our Planet" establishes director David Attenborough as a forceful voice on dangers of climate change.
- Flood victims in Iran go from living independent, even comfortable, lives to accepting handouts to survive.
- A criticism of Saudi Arabia's Iran International TV, personally funded by MBS. [4-minute video, in Persian]
(4) Today's public lecture, offered as part of the Thematic Learning Initiative: UCSB's Campbell Hall hosted a lecture by author Beth Macy, entitled "Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America" (based on a book by the same title, that was provided free of charge to many attendees). Macy asserted that the opioid epidemic in the US is a multi-faceted problem that requires extensive cooperation at the federal, state, and local levels for its solution. The epidemic kills as many people as a jetliner crash every single day! We knew a long time ago that opioids are addictive, but this assessment was somehow overturned, leading to the promotion, over-prescription, and abuse of the drugs. Many parents remain unaware of their children abusing prescription painkillers or even shooting up heroin, until they find needles hidden in their closets. The federal government's response has largely been impotent: After promising to declare a national emergency over opioids, Trump declared only a public-health emergency, which provided no new funds or other resources for dealing with the problem. Ironically, the opioid overdose problem is worst in rural counties that are overwhelmingly pro-Trump. Raising awareness is the key. So, I will share my copy of the book with family members who care to learn about the issues.

2019/04/06 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine cover, showing Trump singin' in the rain in the aftermath of Mueller's report Time magazine cover: Uncle Joe's unforced error, yet again Time magazine cover: Climate change is transforming our planet, including Australia’s drought-impacted landscape (1) Recent Time magazine covers: [Left] Trump's "Singing in the Rain" celebration comes to an abrupt end. [Center] Uncle Joe's unforced error, yet again: Instead of moving on after his video pseudo-apology garnered positive reviews, he had to put his foot in his mouth again by joking about his physicality. We don't need another president who longs for simpler times and just doesn't get modern-day complexities. It's about making people uncomfortable, not about your intentions, uncle Joe! Here's another view on Joe Biden's recent woes, asserting that attacks on expressing affection promote toxic masculinity. [Right] Climate change is transforming our planet, including Australia's drought-impacted landscape.
(2) Flash mob atop Tehran's Nature Bridge: Keeping the true Iranian spirit in the face of sanctions, floods, and other natural/political disasters! [6-minute video]
(3) Anti-Science/Tech-in-Chief: Donald Quixote Trump declares war on wind turbines by claiming that they will leave you in the dark when the wind doesn't blow and that their sound causes cancer. Talk about hoaxes!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Report by Ethiopia points to software problem in airliner's crash, Boeing admits responsibility.
- Presidential selfie-stick: The Obama scandal that had Fox News foaming at the mouth.
- Backward-looking energy policies in a country that used to be technologically advanced. [Cartoon]
- Persian music, based on a melody by maestro Abolhassan Saba: "The Best Feeling"
- Scary that even the door-to-door religious crusaders know the languages you speak! [Persian pamphlet]
- Gorgeous day at UCSB and on West Campus beach, with unusually clear view on the SB Channel Islands.
(5) On rewriting history: An opposition journalist, who was jailed by the Islamic regime, tries to prevent the rewriting of Iran's history. By quoting from the diaries of Asadollah Alam, perhaps the late Shah's closest ally (Alam used to call himself a 'house-born' slave of his master), Akbar Ganji exposes the corruption and disarray that prevailed in the pre-Revolution Iran, something that Royalists and several other opposition groups sweep under the rug or, worse, whitewash by constructing an alternative history. Here's a review of Alam's diaries. [Disclaimer: I don't fully trust Ganji, but he does quote from Alam's diaries verbatim.]
(6) Attorney General William Barr's inaccurate 4-page summary of Mueller's 400-page report provided a favorable picture that Trump used to claim "complete and total exoneration." [Source: Time magazine]

2019/04/05 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Iranian officials are not worried about widespread devastation caused by floods Mueller's Report, depicted among best-selling books The panini generation: Sandwiched between obligations to children and parents (1) Today's cartoons: [Left] Iranian officials are not worried about widespread devastation caused by floods (from Iranwire). [Center] Publishers are scrambling to obtain the rights to publish Mueller's Report once it is released, hoping that it will become a best-seller like the Warren Commission Report. [Right] The panini generation: Sandwiched between obligations to children and parents (from Time magazine).
(2) Major US research universities are cutting ties with China's Huawei and ZTE because of security concerns. They are also exercising greater caution in their dealings with Russia and Saudi Arabia.
(3) A Muslim, a Jew, and a Christian walk on stage ... There is no joke here, just some prayers put to music and performed in front of the Pope during his visit to Morocco. [7-minute video]
(4) Who will be the next president of Ukraine: Yulia Tymoshenko, the seasoned politician who looks like a glamorous model, or Volodymyr Zelensky, the TV comedian whose unexpected rise took everyone by surprise? The incumbent Petro Poroshenko lags in the polls. [Source: Time magazine]
(5) Turing-Award-winning AI researcher Yoshua Bengio is speaking up about the perils of commercializing AI (face recognition, in particular) too soon. He also calls for more transparency in research and considers self-regulation quite dangerous.
(6) Software rejuvenation: It has been known for some time that like hardware, software also ages, in the sense of accumulating junk and ad-hoc patches that affect its reliability and performance. This is why returning the software to "factory settings" removes many common difficulties we encounter in day-to-day use. While the benefit of clean restarts isn't news to computing professionals and has been part of the field's folklore, it took a while to put this process of systematic and proactive rejuvenation on firm scientific footing. For their efforts in bringing about a better understanding of the software rejuvenation process in their seminal paper "Software Rejuvenation: Analysis, Module and Applications," Yennun Huang, Chandra Kintala, Nick Kolettis, and N. Dudley Fulton have been awarded the 2019 Jean-Claude Laprie Award in Dependable Computing.

2019/04/04 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Jake Shimabukuro performing on stage, Photo 1 Jake Shimabukuro autographing a skateboard after his performance at UCSB Jake Shimabukuro performing on stage, Photo 1 (1) Today's UCSB Arts & Lectures free noon concert: Jake Shimabukuro performed at the base of the Storke Tower, offering a combination of original song, Hawaiian favorites, and pop/rock classics. This super-talented artist does wonders with his 4-string ukulele. He said that he enjoys coming to UCSB and that he loves Santa Barbara. Like me, many of the attendees had brought their lunch to eat under the sun, while enjoying a wonderful concert. [Photos] [Opening song, an original composition] [The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby"] [Original composition paying tribute to Carlos Montoya, the guitar genius that, early on, Shimabukuro says he thought to be a 3-piece band, given the diverse musical sounds he made with a guitar!] [Demonstrating his mastery by reproducing electric-guitar sounds on a ukulele] [Performing the song that made him a YouTube sensation and jump-started his career, George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"] [Ending the hour-long concert with a Queen tribute, "Bohemian Rhapsody"]
(2) Today must be my lucky day: Besides being treated to a free concert by the super-talented ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro (see item 1 above), I received a compliment from a fortune cookie ("You have a charming way with words") that came with the to-go lunch I took with me to the concert and got a free copy of the "UCSB Reads" book for 2019, The Best We Could Do (by Thi Bui). Maybe I should go buy a lottery ticket!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Cartoon of the day: The prospect of space tourism frightens Martians! [Image]
- The family that created, and directly benefits from, the US opioid crisis. [Cartoon]
- Dentist joke: If only our sweet tooth would listen to our wisdom tooth!
- Persian music: Fatemeh Mehla sings a sad, romantic song with her super-sweet voice.
(4) "Addressing Challenges to a Large-Scale Transition to a Low-Carbon Energy Future": This was the title of today's interesting talk by Ranjit Deshmukh (Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at UCSB) under the auspieces of UCSB's Institute for Energy Efficiency. Renewable energy (RE) sources are abundant and their costs are rapidly declining. So, cost incentive is being added to clean-air and other environmental incentives for using renewable energy sources. However, large-scale deployment of RE generation facilities introduces serious challenges in planning and operating electricity systems in terms of balancing technical concerns with social and environmental objectives. Using examples from his research in Africa and India, the speaker highlighted methods of addressing these challenges. He also outlined ongoing projects on an open-source electricity grid modeling platform and a field study to understand incentives for increasing adoption of energy-efficient appliances (which tend to be more expensive) in low-income households of developing countries. [Images]

2019/04/03 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Chart: USA's military budget vs. other big-spenders (1) Illegal budget re-allocation: On Trump's orders, the US military has begun spending money on the southern border wall, using what it calls unneeded or leftover funds from existing projects. These excess funds seriously undermine the military's arguments for needing even larger budgets. [Chart: America's military budget vs. other big-spenders]
(2) An early morning walk in Goleta Beach Park: To prepare and gather energy for 11 straight hours of classes, office hours, and meetings, I went for an invigorating walk at the beach park near UCSB. Nothing is more invigorating than a dose of nature and the sound of ocean waves. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4]
(3) Mixing vehicles with pedestrians on the UCSB campus: Walkways are generally out of bounds for motorized vehicles, although enforcement is sorely lacking at UCSB. This particular walkway has been designated as "mixed-use" so as to allow access to the parking lot behind the new Bioengineering Building. It is unbelievable that a modern, multi-million-dollar building was designed and built, without mitigating vehicular access to it, thus necessitating the mixed-use designation. Now, the entrance to the said parking lot is closed for repair work, causing vehicles to drive even further on walkways in order to gain access to the parking lot from its other side. I photographed a large FedEx truck doing this a couple of days ago (see April 1) and observed a sedan driving on a regular (not mixed-use) walkway yesterday. This situation is getting out of control!
(4) For my Persian-speaking readers: Humor as a coping mechanism for Iranians devastated by recent floods, after 40 years of oppression by a cruel and incompetent leadership. [Meme]
(5) Some good news, for a change: Greek and North Macedonian prime ministers pose for a historic selfie after ending a 30-year name dispute.
(6) March/April madness: Once again, talented college athletes are creating wonder and excitement on the basketball court, while NCAA, TV execs, and a bunch of others, who never set foot on the court or touch a basketball, pocket millions in proceeds. Isn't working for free while creating wealth for others a form of slave-labor? [Basketball-related cartoon from The New Yorker]

2019/04/02 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
pi vs. e: Are we over-valuing pi by celebrating it annually on 3/14? Meme of the day about Trump: Innocent or crook? Two more photos of spring 2019 in post-drought California's mountains and deserts (1) Images of the day: [Left] Are we over-valuing pi by celebrating it annually on 3/14? Some argue that the number e = 2.7182818... is even more important than pi, both scientifically and practically. Alas, there is no such date as 2/71 or 27/1! [Center] Meme of the day: Any reasonable person would pick option 2. [Right] Two more photos of spring 2019 in post-drought California's mountains and deserts.
(2) Today is Sizdah-Beh-Dar: Iranians celebrate the 13th day of Norooz, a day of communion with the Earth and nature (and, for the superstitious, getting rid of evil spirits by tossing them in the outdoors). Carrying out pranks (a la April Fool's) is one of the traditions on this day. When Sizdah-Beh-Dar falls on a weekday, it is often celebrated by Iranians in diaspora on a nearby weekend day (last Sunday, in the case of this year). [Image]
(3) Donating to flood relief efforts in Iran: US sanctions against Iran make some kinds of assistance impossible for Iranian-Americans. This article outlines what is and isn't allowed. In short, NGOs are exempted from the sanctions, whereas people acting individually are not. UNICEF USA is a top-rated charity that has a presence in Iran and has been helping. Before donating to other charities, please take a moment to research their goals, track record, and NGO status. [Flood photo]
(4) Comedy news trumps serious news: How Trump lied about supporting the Special Olympics and the Great Lakes (with amazing "deepness"), while cutting their fundings in his budget. [Seth Meyers' "A Closer Look"]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- I have checked out Moms Against Poverty's Iran Flood Relief and decided to donate to support them.
- Flood devastation continues in Iran: Kurdistan and Khuzestan are now in danger. [Aljazeera report]
- Scenes of flooding in the vicinity of Kermanshah and other parts of western Iran. [Three videos]
- Anonymous quote: Ignorance isn't lack of knowledge; it's resistance against knowledge.
- Expose about Lavasan, a playground near Tehran for Iran's richest people. [9-minute video, in Persian]
(6) Arguing for sex differences in IQ raises its ugly head again: The claim is that men are smarter than women, because in the upper IQ range of 130 or higher, men are more heavily represented than women. IQ and other tests are known to have gender and cultural biases. Given equal educational and economic opportunities, race and gender differences tend to vanish. American Psychological Association has concluded that women tend to be stronger on verbal abilities, while men perform better on visuospatial abilities, but there is no significant gender-related difference overall. Ditto for race.
[R. E. Nisbet, "Intelligence New Findings and Theoretical Developments," American Psychologist, 67(2), 2012]

2019/04/01 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Tomb of Hafez in Shiraz, after the flooding Forty years ago today (on April 1, 1979), Iranians went to the polls to approve the establishment of an Islamic Republic, knowing little about what it meant Vehicle violating pedestrian space at UCSB, today (1) Images of the day: [Left] Tomb of Hafez in Shiraz, after the flooding. [Center] Forty years ago today (on April 1, 1979), Iranians went to the polls and sealed their fates by approving the establishment of an Islamic Republic, which was ill-defined at the time. These modern women certainly would not have approved of a system of government that restricts their clothing and infringes upon many of their basic rights as human beings. [Right] Vehicle violating pedestrian space at UCSB, today: This FedEx truck has no business driving on the walkway connecting UCSB Library to Engineering Buildings. I have brought these violations to the attention of campus administration continuously over many years (as we say in Persian, my tongue has grown hair from repeated complaints), but, alas, I have not seen any action.
(2) Bringing back pieces of the Ice Age to combat climate change: A fascinating 14-minute segment on Sunday's "60 Minutes" covered Siberia's Pleistocene Park, in which genius/madman Sergey Zimov and his family have taken on the nearly impossible task of reversing the melting of permafrost, said to contain more harmful greenhouse gases than the entire remaining fossil fuel on earth.
(3) The next technical talk of IEEE Central Coast Section: On Wednesday, April 17, 2019, at 6:00 PM, Dr. Pradeep Sen will talk about "Monte Carlo Denoising." [Flyer]
(4) Child marriages aren't just a Third-World problem: A majority of US states allow 16- and 17-year-olds to marry and 17 states have no minimum marriage age. Opposition to establishing a minimum age for marriage comes from unexpected sources, such as ACLU.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- How many Mexican countries can you name? If your answer is "1," you should tune in to "Fox & Friends"!
- Plagiarism isn't a victimless crime, writes Adrian Bejan in the April 2019 issue of Prism magazine.
- Humor worth crying over: Islamic emergency management in Iran's regions devastated by floods!
- Persian music: Darya Dadvar sings a beautiful song about spring. [4-minute video]
(6) Persian music: On the 40th anniversary of the referendum that established the Islamic Republic in Iran, this song entitled "The Magic of Dancing" celebrates Iranian women who defy Islamic authorities and their absurd laws by dancing in public.
(7) At the end of April Fool's Day, and in anticipation of tomorrow's Sizdah-Beh-Dar (13th day of Norooz with its traditional lie), here is one of the best pranks of this year. [Image]

2019/03/31 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Proposed US Treasury bill bearing Trump's image 'New Yorker' cartoon of the day These two photos show a key reason for flood devastation in Shiraz, Iran (1) Images of the day: [Left] Proposed US Treasury bill bearing Trump's image, in anticipation of his complaint regarding why the greatest president in US history does not appear on any bill. [Center] New Yorker cartoon of the day: "While I appreciate that you've turned your book report in early, 'It's about war and peace' doesn't cut it." [Right] These two photos show a key reason for flood devastation in Shiraz, Iran, that is, the criminal removal of a flood basin next to the city's historic entry arch and its replacement by a road.
(2) Trump thinks that Mueller's report exonerates him. Here's comedian Bill Maher's analogy: "Yes, the pregnancy test came back negative, but that doesn't mean you are a virgin!"
(3) Letter to researchers from NSF's Director of Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), James Kurose, 3/25/2019: "Last week, the President presented the FY 2020 Budget Request, proposing $7.066 billion for NSF in FY 2020—a 12% decrease with respect to the FY 2019 Congressional Appropriations for NSF."
(4) On being a role model: "What you really need to do is show students how imperfect people can be and still succeed." ~ Karen Uhlenbeck, who on March 19 became the first woman to win the Abel Prize, a top award in mathematics (recall that Maryam Mirzakhani broke math's glass ceiling in 2014 by winning the Fields Medal)
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- "Stop AOC PAC" is established: How scared are old, white men of this young, inexperienced representative?
- Many MENA countries put environmentalists in prison, as drought and natural disasters take giant tolls.
- Istanbul's beautiful Hagia Sophia has served as both church and mosque over its long history.
- Watch the dynamics of relationships, from the initial meeting to nearly 5 decades later: 1970s vs. 2010s
- Brooklyn Duo's rendition of "Can't Help Falling in Love" (made famous by Elvis).
- Zeyn and Rhyan Shweyk of the duo SBPianoBoys play "Malaguena" on a single keyboard.
(6) Yet another manifestation of gender bias: At a 2015 rare-books fair in NYC, American writer A. N. Devers noticed that rare books by women authors were selling at a small fraction of the prices set for books by comparably famous male authors. Three years later, upon moving to London and joining UK's thriving rare-books trade, she opened the red doors to her new bookstore, "Second Shelf," which almost exclusively stocks rare books by women. [Info from Time magazine, issue of April 1, 2019]
(7) So long, spring break: My brief one-week break is over and UCSB's spring quarter classes will begin in full force tomorrow. The first week of the quarter will be quite hectic, given intensive academic advising and organizational workload, not to mention the administration of our twice-a-year PhD screening exam. I will settle into my usual routine by mid-April and will start the countdown to summer!

2019/03/29 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranian human-rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh on a Paris poster, which calls for her release This spring, California emerged from its very long drought: And it's a sight to behold! Jasmines, with heavenly fragrance, on my carport trellis, photographed today (1) Images of the day: [Left] Iranian human-rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh on a Paris poster, which calls for her release. [Center] This spring, California emerged from its very long drought: And it's a sight to behold! [Right] Jasmines, with heavenly fragrance, on my carport trellis, photographed today.
(2) Humor, for my Persian-speaking readers: Flooding has devastated northern and central Iran. Over the past decades, the government opted to imprison environmental activists, rather than heed their warnings about such disasters. Humor is one of the few coping tools left to the oppressed people of Iran.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A footnote in Barr's 4-page summary of Mueller's ~400-page report is causing some head-scratching.
- Iran spends 80 times more money on religious propaganda than on disaster relief. [Iranwire report]
- Scenes from flood damage in Luristan Province, western Iran. [1-minute video]
- Iranian civil-rights activist Sepideh Gholian writes a Norooz letter from prison. [Iranwire reposrt]
- Photographic art depicts contrasts in our world: Both horrifying and mesmerizing!
- The 2nd annual UCSB Arts Walk is coming during 3rd week of spring quarter (W 4/17, 4:30-8:00 PM).
- Extraordinary young musicians exhibit awe-inspiring skills on guitar (video 1) and pan-flute (video 2).
(4) New kids on the block: Today, near the Camino Real Marketplace Starbucks, a young man was playing the keyboard with skill and passion. I learned that he and his brother (Zein & Rhyan) form the SBPianoBoys duo (805-298-4009; sbpianoboys@gmail.com), which plays at events of various kinds. Today, they took turns playing. Here's the CD I got in exchange for a modest contribution. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]
(5) What I did on this last weekday of my spring break: I spent the day updating my spring 2019 course Web pages in preparation for classes beginning on Monday, April 1, 2019. Here are the links for the curious.
[ECE 1B] Freshman seminar, "Ten Puzzling Problems in Computer Engineering" (Wed., 3:30-4:50) [Image]
[ECE 252B] Graduate course, "Computer Arithmetic" (ECE 252B; Mon./Wed. 12:00-1:30) [Image]
(6) Final thought for the day: "There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves." ~ Will Rogers

2019/03/28 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today's 'New Yorker' cartoon blocked by Mitch McConnell Uniting Afghanistan through street art Cartoon: Mueller report, with 300+ pages, as abridged by Trump pal, AG Bill Barr (1) Images of the day: [Left] New Yorker cartoon blocked by Mitch McConnell. [Center] Uniting Afghanistan through street art (Iranwire.com). [Right] Mueller report, with 300+ pages, as abridged by AG Bill Barr.
(2) Throwback Thursday: This week's cover feature of Santa Barbara Independent (issue of 3/28-4/04/2019) reminded me of many years ago, when we scrambled to find appropriate summer activities for the kids.
(3) Can't believe the US is negotiating with the Taliban, the same folks who put a bullet through Malala's head and routinely flogged women in public at sports stadiums during their rule!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Under intense pressure from all sides, Trump reverses Betsy DeVos on de-funding the Special Olympics.
- Political humor: Palestinians recognize Texas as part of Mexico and plan to move their consulate to Houston.
- Vehicle-friendly roads and driver distraction blamed for highest US pedestrian death rate in 30 years.
- Some articles in the April 2019 issue of Communications of the ACM, with a focus on computing in Europe.
(5) Mueller may have played it smart: Collusion charges are punishable only via impeachment, which is almost certain to fail in the current US Senate. Financial fraud and corruption are pursued by state courts, whose sentences are not influenced or pardonable by federal authorities. This is a quicker/surer way to get Trump.
(6) We will pay for the effects of climate change one way or another, whether we pass the Green New Deal and pay gradually or ignore the problem until we have to deal with the resulting trillion-dollar catastrophes.
(7) Jupiter, not Venus, is the planet closest to earth: Three researchers argue that determining closeness by the average distance between orbits isn't appropriate. Earth's orbit is closer to Venus's than Jupiter's, but the actual average distance from Earth to Venus is larger. Imagine two planets on the exact same orbital path, but always appearing at opposite ends of that path. Orbital distance between such planets would be 0, whereas their average distance may be quite large.
(8) What I did on my spring break 2019: It was going downhill from Monday's amazing visit to Huntington Library and Gardens in Pasadena. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I did my taxes and this morning, I had a dental appointment. So, I decided to turn things around by taking a long nature walk this afternoon. Windy conditions made the afternoon perfect for sail- and kite-surfers. The sun and clean air turned my mood around, as the numbness in my mouth faded away! [Photos]

2019/03/27 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez on the cover of 'Time' magazine, issue of April 1, 2019 Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez's tweet about the Mueller report (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Like any newcomer to politics, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will no doubt make mistakes and be attacked for them, but she seems to be a fast learner. Her tweet and Time magazines April 1, 2019, cover photo show her to be a rising star. [Right] Emerging alive from the torture-chamber of doing taxes: I was expecting to pay more compared with previous years, because of reduced withholding (Trump administration's way of creating the illusion that we are keeping a lot more of our hard-earned money), but the final outcome was unpleasant nonetheless! Having spent the third day of my week-long spring break as noted, I need to relax for the rest of the evening to get back to my normal self tomorrow!
(2) The 2019 puzzle: Each year, I try to use the digits in the year number, in their original order and without repetition, to form all the integers beginning with 0, using nothing but mathematical symbols and parentheses. I have neglected to do this for 2019, so here we go. The task was quite easy this year. In fact, I did not have to use parentheses, all the way up to 13. Here are my first five results, as examples. See if you can complete the list up to 24. In each case, try to use as few mathematical symbos as possible.
0 = 2 × 0 × 19    1 = 20 – 19   2 = 2 + 0 × 19   3 = 2 + 0 + 1^9  4 = 2 × 0 + 1 + √9
Try not to peek at these answers before giving the puzzle a serious try!
ACM's A. M. Turing Award winners for 2018: Geoffrey Hinton, Yann LeCun, and Yoshua Bengio (3) AI pioneers Geoffrey Hinton, Yann LeCun, and Yoshua Bengio are bestowed the highest honor in computing, Association for Computing Machinery's 2018 A. M. Turing Award, for "conceptual and engineering breakthroughs that have made deep neural networks a critical component of computing."
(4) Monica Lewinsky reacts to the Mueller report: Imagines how her life might have unfolded, had only a summary of Ken Starr's lurid report been released by the then Attorney General.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Republicans introduce a mock amendment to the Green New Deal legislation. Here is AOC's response.
- Trump administration launches a new all-out war on Obamacare, this time aiming to scrap the entire law.
- Remains of the world's biggest T-rex, weighing 9.8 tons, discovered at a fossil site in Canada.
- The list of ten oldest languages still spoken in the world includes Persian/Farsi.
- Italy's La Scala opera house is returning a $3.4 million donation to Saudi Arabia in protest.
- Forget about tree-houses: Go for 3D-printed concrete castles in your backyard! [6-minute video]
(6) A comprehensive and wide-ranging 144-minute interview (in Persian) with Dr. Nayereh Tohidi about the history and current status of women's rights in Iran, 40 years after the establishment of the Islamic Republic.

2019/03/26 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Street has turned into a river and cars have piled up in the central Iranian city of Shiraz Shirazis offering free lodging and food to flood victims The ancient drainage system of Persepolis fared better than those of the modern city of Shiraz in disposing of substantial rain water (1) Relentless downpours and flooding in Iran: [Left] The photo and this video show the central city of Shiraz, mere days into the Iranian new year. Here's another frightening scene of extreme flooding in Shiraz. And Tajrish, northern Tehran, faces scenes like these from some 3 decades ago. [Center] People of Shiraz are showing extreme compassion and generosity toward flood victims, including tourists trapped in the city due to road closures, by offering them free lodging and food. [Right] Forward-looking design: Underground canals at Persepolis, built 2500 years ago, drained all the water from sustained downpours remarkably well, as the city of Shiraz nearby suffered extensive damage from flash-floods and mud flows.
(2) Mueller's report is different from a 4-page summary of it, prepared by a Trump ally who believes a President cannot obstruct justice. Meanwhile, Trump has resumed his attacks on Obamacare as a way of deflecting attention from demands to release the full Mueller report. He isn't as clueless as many think!
(3) Eight-year-old Nigerian refugee becomes New York State's chess champion: Tanitoluwa Adewumi hopes to be able to move out of a NYC homeless shelter after a crowdfunding campaign raised $100,000 for his family.
(4) Four very likable women join the Apple team: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Garner, and Rashida Jones have become "Apple Girls," slated to work on programming for Apple's media streaming outlet.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A Russian-born American businessman made (perfectly legal) large contributions to the Trump campaign.
- First all-female spacewalk cancelled by NASA, because they couldn't find space-suits in proper sizes!
- Persian music on santoor and donbak, played by two unidentified women. [1-minute video]
- Toby the Devil directs people arriving in Hell: Hilarious 5-minute comedy routine by Rowan Atkinson.
(6) Here is a capsule summary of the proposed Green New Deal: Will America be brave enough and forward-looking enough to enact a program that our children and grandchildren will look back on with pride, as we now do for Medicare and Social Security? [Image credit: Time magazine]
(7) Today's bounty: I did some shopping at Santa Barbara's European Market, our area's inadequate substitute for a full-fledged Persian Market. Among the items I bought are healthy sweet lemons and a big jar of white mulberry jam (product of Armenia), which I have divided up for distribution among family members as treats.

2019/03/25 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
One of the entrances to the library at Huntington Estate Orbit Pavilion at Huntington Library and Gardens A tasteful combination of architecture and art at Huntington Library and Gardens (1) My excellent adventure at Huntington Library and Gardens: Here is how I spent the first day of my week-long spring break (images, 1). Setting out from Santa Barbara on a chartered Airbus, we arrived at the Library in Pasadena around 11:15 AM. After a short break, my group began a 1-hour docent-led tour of the grounds (images, 2), which did not entail entering any buildings or going to the far corners of the 120-acre estate.
We then had less than 2 hours to explore the magnificent estate on our own, before reconvening at the drop-off point for the return trip. With so much to see, I decided to skip lunch and to pick up a sandwich from the 1919 Cafe (that's the establishment year for the research institution, celebrating its centennial this year) just before returning to the bus.
I spent my remaining time at two special library exhibits: "Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World," old science books and other artifacts in the main exhibit, along with newer books on display in a reading room (images, 3), and "Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times," an exhibit of old books, drafts, personal notes, and letters written by giants of the literary world, including a fascinating 6-foot-tall book containing life-size drawings of birds (images, 4). I could have spent three times as much time at this unique library, which is world-renowned for its collections accommodating 1700 scholars annually.
I also recorded two videos. Video 1 shows a stroll through Shakespeare Garden. Video 2 shows the Library's Orbit Pavilion, a NASA installation that represents the space Station and 19 science satellites with distinctive sounds (related to their missions) as they pass overhead. Because most visitors don't have the patience to wait for hours, the entire cycle is compressed into 2 minutes.
There are two other components to the estate. First, there are expansive botanical gardens, which include separate Chinese, Japanese, Australian, subtropical, rose, herb, jungle, palm, ranch, desert, and Shakespeare gardens. Second, there is an impressive art collection encompassing 36,000 works of art.
So, I will need 2-3 more visits to cover all areas of interest. The estate's Web site provides much useful information for learning about its resources, upcoming events, and visit planning. I saw quite a few cherry blossoms today. The Rose Garden will be in full bloom in April, for those who like roses.
If you live in Southern California or plan to visit here, put Huntington Library and Gardens on your to-see list!
(2) Many have opined that impeaching Trump is a bad idea, citing the potential for additional conflicts and divisions, compared with letting the voters decide in 2020. I'm fine with these reasonings, but where were these commentators when Clinton's impeachment was given the green light?
(3) Streamlining of regulations sounds great, until events such as Boeing 737 Max crashes occur. Congress repeatedly pressured FAA to speed up its certification process. Let's hope that the safety of our bridges, levees, dams, ports, and nuclear power plants has not been similarly compromised.

2019/03/24 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
On the mystery of gasoline prices in the Santa Barbara area: Mobil gas station at the intersection of Glen Annie Road and US 101 Hyacynth and other spring flowers Earth Hour: Turn off your lights for one hour, beginning at 8:30 PM local time, on Saturday, March 30, 2019 (1) Images of the day: [Left] Mobil gas station at the intersection of Glen Annie Road and US 101: See the last item below (photo from Santa Barbara Independent). [Center] Hyacynth and other spring flowers arrive with Norooz: I have added my latest Norooz poem to my poetry Web page, which now contains the entire collection of my Norooz poems since 2002, except for those of 2006 & 2012 (Norooz 1385 & 1391). I am trying to locate the missing two and will post them if/when I find them. [Right] Earth Hour: Turn off your lights for one hour, beginning at 8:30 PM local time, on Saturday, March 30, 2019.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A prolific activist from Santa Barbara: Ady Barkan, a little-known hero for progressive causes, is dying.
- For youth who want to engage in summer jobs that make a difference, while gaining valuable experience.
- Islamic Iran: Watch what happens to an 8-year-old's beautiful smile upon being told she shouldn't dance!
- Persian music: This 4-decades-old video contains an hour of music from Norooz TV specials. Enjoy!
(3) [Musings of a curious mind] The mystery of gas prices in Santa Barbara: Whenever I return home via northbound US 101, I take the Storke/Glen-Annie exit and drive by a Mobil gas station at the end of the off-ramp. What is unique about this station is that its gas prices are routinely $1.50-2.00 per gallon higher than some other stations in the area.
Who'd buy gas at 50-70% higher price than other area stations? Desperate northbound motorists who are running low on gas and shortly before the Stork Road exit notice a sign on the side of the freeway warning them that there are no motorist services for the next 30 miles, that's who! As such motorists, often unfamiliar with the area, exit the Freeway to get gas, the Mobil station is the first thing they see, and no other station appears in sight.
This practice is despicable, but not illegal. There are no penalties for selling at unreasonably high prices in the US, except immediately after natural disasters. Competition is supposed to offer protection against price-gouging. You can buy gas at $2.50 per gallon and sell it for twice that price if you can find a buyer.
On purely economic grounds, a much higher price may be beneficial to the seller. Suppose gas costs $2.50 per gallon to station owners. If you sell it for $3.00, you make a $0.50 profit per gallon. If you sell it for $5.00, your profit is 5 times as much, so you come out ahead if the number of buyers exceeds 1/5 that of a typical station. And that sign on the freeway essentially guarantees that you have enough customers to turn a higher profit than other stations.
According to Santa Barbara Independent, issue of March 21-28, 2019, Jing Xu, a graduate student at UCSB who was similarly baffled by the huge price differences, decided to conduct a study of gas prices in the Santa Barbara area. He developed a model that allowed him to relate gas prices to various parameters, including location, nearby competition, crude oil market, transportation charges, proximity of businesses such as restaurants, land zoning, brand recognition, and the like.
In most cases, variations reasonably matched the predictions. In the Santa Barbara area, three stations were outliers (price gougers). In addition to the Mobile station at Glen Annie Road and US 101, mentioned above, the research exposes a Chevron station at the intersection of Highways 154 and 246 in Santa Ynez Valley (which has almost no competition) and a 76 station at the intersection of Carpinteria and Linden Avenues in Carpinteria (which enjoys proximity to restaurants, bars, and the beach).

2019/03/23 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Visually plelasing photos: Perfectly-aligned trucks Visually plelasing photos: Colorful fligt of stairs Visually plelasing photos: Perfect gift-wrapping (1) Visually pleasing photos that can make you smile: [Left] Perfectly-aligned trucks. [Center] Colorful fligt of stairs. [Right] Perfect gift-wrapping.
(2) On symmetry: While there are situations where symmetry becomes problematic, leading to the need for symmetry-breaking to resolve an impasse, it is predominantly a highly desirable attribute. In interconnection networks, for instance, symmetry leads to routing efficiency and greater robustness. In this journal article, Dr. Chenggui Zhao and I have used symmetry to improve the quality of virtual network embedding.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- University of California responds to Trump's executive order on free speech.
- The exact moment of spring equinox at the tomb of Hafez in Shiraz, Iran. [1-minute video]
- Abstract painting: "Life Bloom," Kamran Khavarani's 28" × 40" depiction of flowers. [Image]
- People of Kermanshah celebrate Norooz at the historic Tagh-e Bostan. [Photos]
- Norooz celebration at a village in Marivan, Kurdistan, Iran. [Photo]]
- Persian music: Darya Dadvar sings a beautiful song whose name I do not know. [5-minute video]
- Persian music: An a-cappella performance of "Waltz-e Noroozi" ("Norooz Waltz"). [2-minute video]
- Iranian music: A montage of songs and dances from several regions of Iran. [6-minute video]
(4) Ahmadinejad-like politicians in the US: Trump possibly sent by God to save Israel from Iran, according to Mike Pompeo, responding to a cue about Queen Esther saving Iranian Jews from a massacre.
(5) Mike Pomepo: Trump was sent by God to save Israel from Iran. [This God is pretty sneaky; he first sends Khamenei to destroy Israel and then Trump to protect it! Maybe He will send someone to save us from Trump!]
(6) The French will pay for the wall: Part of the $1.3 billion fine on Societe Generale, a French bank which has admitted to violating US sanctions on Cuba and Iran, to be funneled for funding Trump's wall.
(7) Far from paying for the wall, Mexico is stealing it, piece by piece: Barbed wire installed on the wall is showing up at Mexican homes. "I built a wall around my house and Trump paid for it!"
(8) Largest cities in the world, 1500-2018: The dynamic list begins with Beijing at the top, with Istanbul prevailing for more than a century, followed by Beijing, London, New York, and Tokyo. From Iran, Tabriz and Esfahan appear on the list for brief intervals, before falling off the list.

2019/03/22 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Visually pleasing photos that can make you smile: Watermelon square Visually pleasing photos that can make you smile: Perfect rows of flowers Visually pleasing photos that can make you smile: Roots between tiles (1) Visually pleasing photos that can make you smile: [Left] Watermelon square. [Center] Perfect rows of flowers. [Right] Roots between tiles.
(2) Freedom of (hate) speech: The President who exercises freedom of speech daily but turns blue when others do, signs executive order to protect freedom of speech on college campuses. It's easy to see why he has singled out college campuses, instead of supporting the basic freedom unequivocally.
(3) Money-saving decisions that turned deadly: The Boeing 737 Max aircraft involved in Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes were not equipped with two "premium" safety options offered by The Boeing Company.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- At least 70 die during Norooz celebrations when an amusement-park boat sinks on Iraq's Tigris River.
- Trump continues to sabotage Mid-East peace prospects: The US recognizes Golan Heights as part of Israel.
- Cartoon of the day: "Is it too early to start contributing to a college bribe fund?" [Image]
- Skydivers put on a spectacular show in LA to draw people's attention to the last supermoon of 2019.
(5) The Linda Problem: Also known as the conjunction fallacy, the problem is an illustration of how our minds are led astray during judgments/decisions by our expectations and what we deem to be representative of the situation. Here is the description of Linda given to participants in a psychology experiment: "Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations."
Then, participants were asked to rate the likelihood that Linda is one of eight possible kinds, including the two key types "bank teller" and "bank teller who is active in the feminist movement" (the other six types were there to camouflage the point of the experiment). Logically, the bank-teller option, which includes the latter as a special case, is at least as likely to be true as the more specific kind (conjunction of "bank teller" & "feminist"). However, most participants tended to choose the more specific description as more likely than the broader one.
Another example entailed asking policy experts to assess the probability of the US breaking off diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union versus the probability that the Soviet Union would invade Poland and the US will cut diplomatic ties. In this case, the more specific option was viewed as 4 times as likely (4% vs. 1%).
One take-away from these experiments is that we really do not choose between options but between descriptions or framings of options. Restating the Linda problem can reduce or even eliminate the fallacy altogether. Another take-away is that the rational human, assumed in older economics models, is nothing but a myth. We are emotional decision-makers.
By the way, problems like this one led to a psychologist (Daniel Kahneman) winning the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics. See my review of the book The Undoing Project, posted yesterday.

2019/03/21 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Michael Lewis' 'The Undoing Project' One of the few remaining large open spaces on the UCSB Campus, with majestic trees, which has, unfortunately, been designated as the site of a future building Congressman Steve King's social-media post about Civil War II (1) Images of the day: [Left] Cover image for Michael Lewis' The Undoing Project (see my review below). [Center] One of the few remaining large open spaces on the UCSB Campus, with majestic trees, which has, unfortunately, been designated as the site of a future building. [Right] Trump and his allies are promoting Civil War II, which they think they would win: This image is from a social-media post by Congressman Steve King.
(2) Book review: Lewis, Michael, The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Dennis Boutsikaris, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The friendship referred to in the subtitle is between Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. And the title's 'Undoing' refers to changing prevalent theories of how the human mind works. The two friends bounced ideas off one another and constituted a story-like research team, although Tversky was later given a lion's share of the credit in terms of academic recognition and honors, leading to the eventual break-up of the team; Kahneman was eventually honored with a 2002 Nobel Prize in economics, after Tversky had died.
The groundbreaking collaborative research of the two friends also formed the basis of Lewis' previous best-seller Moneyball, which chronicled the Oakland A's data-driven approach to building a winning baseball team, but the work of Kahneman and Tversky wasn't properly credited in the earlier book. In this book, Lewis corrects the oversight by telling the rest of the story. Other books of Lewis include The Blind Side, The Big Short, and Flash Boys.
The key thesis of the two friends' work was that far from being rational players, as assumed in the then-common economic models, human beings tend to make irrational or emotion-driven decisions, even when they have hard facts at hand. And this irrationality is no less true of supposed experts in the field than of the person on the street. A lot of our bad decisions arise from projecting certainty, via justifications and story-telling, where there is none.
Notions elaborated upon in this book include 'confirmation bias,' 'law of small numbers,' 'regression to the mean,' and 'prospect theory,' the latter being a formalization of decision-making under uncertainty that incorporates relative as opposed to absolute values, while also accounting for human beings' tendency to be loss-averse or conservative.
Our weakness in estimating probabilities, key components in rational decision-making, prompted Tversky to describe his collaboration with Kahneman as a study of 'natural stupidity,' rather than 'artificial intelligence'! Learning about this weakness, a form of systematic bias, and other shortcomings of our brains, which have not evolved to deal with tricky or complicated situations, are eye-opening, making the book a must-read for all curious minds interested in ideas at the intersection of psychology and economics.
Also recommended are Michael Lewis' 6-minute interview with Stephen Colbert about The Undoing Project and his 7-minute interview with PBS about The Fifth Risk.

2019/03/20 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Norooz greetings in Persian calligraphy Wishing you a very happy Norooz My Persian poem honoring Norooz and Women's Day Farhang Foundation's banner art for Norooz (1) Happy Norooz/Nowruz and Iranian New Year to everyone: May you enjoy nature's renewal with the arrival of spring and may the new Iranian calendar year 1398 bring you and yours greater joy, health, and prosperity! Spring equinox (saal-tahveel) is today at 14:58:27 PDT. This article, by Davood N. Rahny, is a good source of information about the origins and traditions of Norooz. [Credit for banner images: Farhang Foundation]
[P.S.: I am including my poem honoring Women's Day and Norooz, which first appeared as a post on March 8.]
(2) Californian John Pierre Dupont, 80, has been arrested for scamming $250,000 from unwitting donors who believed they were sending money to various political candidates: So, instead of helping those who promised to confront the 1%, they were funding the lavish lifestyle of a millionaire-turned-criminal.
(3) Love in your 60s and 70s: "When you have that feeling, when you have a mad, passionate crush on someone, it's the same when you're 70 as when you're 13. You're awkward, and you're afraid you're doing the wrong thing, and you put yourself out there in ways you don't even think about. We stay who we are no matter how old we get," ~ Actress Sally Field
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Tonight's sky-watching treat for the Iranian New Year: The last supermoon of 2019 will be spectacular!
- After a week-long struggle with cough and congestion, this New Yorker cartoon resonated with me!
- New Zealand bans military-style rifles less than a week after the recent mass shooting: It can be done!
- T-shirt meme of the day: "Make Orwell Fiction Again" [Image]
- Ideas for decorative fruit arrangements: If you have the time and the inclination! [4-minute video]
(5) A win for Santa Barbara County environmentalists and UCSB: The historic Platform Holly, right off the coast of UCSB, has been inactive for a few years and is now owned by the State, following its owner's bankruptcy. Sealing of the wells is planned, but the platform's future is unknown. [Map] [LA Times story]
(6) IEEE Central Coast Section professional-development talk: Dr. Walter Whipple spoke today under the title "Job Shopping for Fun and Profit: A Step-by-Step Guide to Temporary Assignments in the Gig Economy." Dr. Whipple provided advice and resources on temporary assignments, from identification to completion. Comparisons were provided between the two types of temporary assignments, W-2 and 1099, and between such assignments and ordinary salaried jobs. [Event site] [IEEE CCS speakers line-up]

2019/03/19 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A group of people jumping on a protruding rock Salad, made with nine different ingredients: Lettuce, tomato, carrot, cucumber, celery, green pepper, red pepper, radish, strawberry Painting: Woman dancing next to a bonfire on the Iranian fire-jumping festival (1) Images of the day: [Left] A s an engineer, I wouldn't do that, if I were you! [Center] Salad, made with nine different ingredients: Lettuce, tomato, carrot, cucumber, celery, green pepper, red pepper, radish, strawberry. [Right] Anceint Iranian fire-jumping festival: Dating back to at least 1700 BCE, Chaharshanbeh-Suri, the fire-jumping festival held in the evening of the last Tuesday of the year in the Iranian calendar, is a joyous occasion when people make bonfires on the streets or in parks and jump over the flames, with ritual singing and dancing. This 1-minute video shows Chaharshanbeh-Suri rites at a historic mountainside Kurdish village.
(2) IEEE Central Coast Section technical talks: As Chair of the Education Committee for IEEE CCS, covering Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, I invite everyone to the following technical talks, which begin at 6:00 PM on the third Wednesday of each month during 2019. Details, including info about venues, will be published on this Web page as we get closer to each talk. The next talk on Wed. 3/20 will be held at Rusty's Pizza, big meeting room, 5934 Calle Real, Goleta, CA 93117, with pizza, salad, and drinks served before the talk.
- 02/20 Dr. Behrooz Parhami, UCSB ("Promoting Technological Literacy through Mathematical/Logical Puzzles")
- 03/20 Dr. Walter L. Whipple, former Chair of IEEE CCS ("Job Shopping for Fun and Profit"), scheduled*
- 04/17 Dr. Pradeep Sen, UCSB (Area: Visualization/computer-vision), confirmed*
- 05/15 Dr. Katie Byl, UCSB (Area: Robot control and navigation), confirmed
- 06/19 Dr. B. S. Manjunath, UCSB (Area: Advances in deep learning), to be confirmed
- 07/17 Dr. Dmitri Strukov, UCSB (Area: Emerging technologies for alternative computing), confirmed
- 08/21 Dr. Tali Freed, Cal Poly SLO (Area: RFID technology and applications), confirmed*
- 09/18 Dr. Yasamin Mostofi, UCSB (Area: Advances in robotics), confirmed
- 10/16 Dr. Mahnoosh Alizadeh, UCSB (Area: Sustainable and resilient societal infrastructure systems)
- 11/20 Dr. John Bowers, UCSB ("Energy-Efficient Computing and Communications"), confirmed*
- 12/18 Stay tuned: Scheduling in progress
(3) "Enabling Ubiquitous Artificial Intelligence with Algorithm-Hardware Co-Design": This was the title of today's talk by faculty candidate Priyadarshini Panda, Graduate Research Assistant, Purdue University. Ms. Panda described methods for exploiting the inherent variability in the difficulty of input data to scale down the computational requirements of a deep learning network with minimal impact on performance. She also presented the advantages of a temporal learning scheme to address catastrophic forgetting in spiking neural networks. She concluded by discussing how algorithm-hardware co-design techniques hold promise for understanding the energy-accuracy tradeoff, as well as, gauging the robustness of learning systems. [Images]

2019/03/18 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Visually pleasing photo: Spiral book display Visually pleasing photo: Moroccan market spices Visually pleasing photo: Bowl of coins (1) Visually pleasing photos that can make you smile: [Left] Spiral book display. [Center] Moroccan market spices. [Right] Bowl of coins.
(2) Prospects for actual quantum computers: To the question of when quantum computers will be built and applied for real, optimists will reply with "in 5-10 years" and pessimists will cite a 20- to 30-year time frame. But these predictions have remained the same for a couple of decades! The number of papers published on quantum computing has risen dramatically (see chart), but progress towards putting together thousands of qubits (many millions, if errors are to be kept in check through redundancy) needed in a practical quantum computer has been slow. [Source: Article by physicist Mikhail Dyakonov, in IEEE Spectrum, March 2019]
(3) Talk about marital disagreement! Kellyanne Conway thinks of Trump as a superhero who can do no wrong. Her husband George Conway is on a mission to convince people that Trump is mentally ill.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- "Remember Goodness": Words seen at New Zealand mass murder site by a hate-filled White Nationalist.
- Attacking a dead national hero is a sign of cowardice and moral atrophy.
- Blaming the victims: The male-dominated Vatican blames nuns for seducing men of God! (#NunsToo)
- Daily low-dose Aspirin no longer recommended for healthy older people with no on-going heart problems.
- A new medal, the "Purple Broken Heart," awarded to military women raped by comrades-in-arms. [Cartoon]
- A new style of body painting: Artist paints a man's face and hand to create eerie 3D effects.
- Persian music: "Ey Iran" anthem, performed by adorable young kids, starting with a story-like narrative.
- Iranian music: Spring message from Rastak Ensemble, along with a medley of spring-related songs.
(5) Recent crashes of Boeing 737 MAX planes were caused by defects in an angle sensor, whose problems were known as far back as 2014. It is now clear the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes were related.
(6) Final post for the day: At the end of an eventful day, when my mom underwent a heart procedure (she is in good shape and great spirits), I had my final exam, and my daughter came home after her final exam, I am posting a photo of my haft-seen with two main differences compared with previous postings: My hyacinth is now in full bloom and I have added an extra "seen" in the form of unjustly-convicted human-rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, with the hopes that she will spend this and many future Norooz celebrations with her family!

2019/03/16 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Visually pleasing photo: Converse-ation circle Visually pleasing photo: Tomatoes on the vine Visually pleasing photo: Vortex frozen in time (1) Visually pleasing photos that can make you smile: [Left] Converse-ation circle. [Center] Tomatoes on the vine. [Right] Vortex frozen in time.
(2) ABC News' "20-20" special on Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes: Aired at 9:00 PM on Friday 3/15, the 2-hour program exposes how a Stanford drop-out, shaping herself in the mold of Steve Jobs, fooled investors and FDA by pretending that her company had the technology to do almost any blood test on a single drop of blood drawn from a patient's fingertip. Once the scam was exposed, the first self-made female billionaire crashed fast and her highly-valued company became worthless overnight. A cautionary tale about naked ambition, greed, and those who enable shameless behavior (much like what is happening in the US political arena today). [A series of ABC News videos, from different programs]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Parts of the Trump-Russia dossier verified by a company Buzzfeed hired to defend itself against a lawsuit.
- A nurse working for the late Stephen Hawking has been reprimanded for financial/medical misconduct.
- Do you see the difference between how radical Islamic terror and far-right Christian terror are reported?
- On feminism: Feminism isn't entirely about women; it's more about human dignity and freedom of choice.
- Persian music: Medley of several songs about Norooz, spring, and renewal of nature. [5-minute video]
- Persian Music: Another popular song about Norooz, performed beautifully on a rooftop.
(4) The Internet is more fragile than we thought: Facebook learned the hard way that the more tightly it integrates its various services (including Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger), the more vulnerable they become to the cascading effect of a technical glitch. This is what happened recently, when a problematic server configuration change triggered a 24-hour outage of many Facebook services.
(5) Advanced malware: As we continue to patch our software systems to reduce their vulnerabilities to hacking, hackers have moved to exploiting hardware-level vulnerabilities to infiltrate our systems in order to install malware. Spectre and Meltdown used an inherent feature of modern pipelined CPUs, that is, speculatively-executed instructions and what happens after misspeculation. The timing of instruction execution depends on the success or failure in branch prediction, creating a type of side channel (a feature that provides information about the system, without being intended to do so) to extract information about data access patterns and, eventually, the data values themselves. [Source: Article by N. Abu-Ghazaleh, D. Ponomarev, and D. Evtyushkin in IEEE Spectrum, March 2019]

2019/03/15 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCSB administration, faculty, staff, and students stand in solidarity with Muslims around the world and against hate-filled ideologies of all kinds My jasmines, up close and personal: Still not fully in bloom The ultimate invention for the couch potato is now on the market! (1) Images of the day: [Left] UCSB administration, faculty, staff, and students stand in solidarity with Muslims around the world and against hate-filled ideologies of all kinds; see item (2). [Center] My jasmines, up close and personal: Still not fully in bloom. [Right] The ultimate invention for the couch potato is now on the market!
(2) Terrorism in New Zealand: At least 49 dead and about the same number injured in mosque shootings, which the gunman live-streamed. The suspect, a self-identified White Nationalist, had posted hateful messages on social media. Trump does not see White Nationalism as a rising threat.
(3) Humorous Persian poetry: Mr. Haloo's message to now-dissident Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush, one of the hardliners in the early days of the Islamic Republic and someone who did much damage to Iranian universities by pushing his antiquated idea of making the curricula "Islamic."
(4) A young investigative reporter reveals how certain Iranian officials and individuals connected to political power centers embezzle many millions of dollars through chain investments, without putting in a single toman of their own money. [7-minute video, in Persian]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Tim Berners-Lee, father of Worldwide Web, is quite disappointed in what his brainchild has become at 30.
- Nike falls for Islamic-Republic propaganda and is condemned for depicting Maryam Mirzakhani with a hijab.
- Universities starting to take grad-student mental health challenges due to work pressures seriously.
- Cartoon of the day: "It's a great school, but it wasn't my first choice." [Image]
- Comical, though quite impressive, performance of classical music and other familiar tunes.
- Torn between two Persian sayings: Is silence "a sign of consent" or "the best response to fools"?
- Persian music: The beautiful "Norooz Waltz," superbly performed. [4-minute video]
- Persian music: Instrumental, big-orchestra performance of "Hamzaboonam Baash" ("Be My Companion").
(6) This is the extent of the knowledge of our President on science and technology: MIT scientists have made fun of his assertions, but, unfortunately, the tweets resonate with his base, because they are deeply suspicious of science and hi-tech. So, it seems, MAGA means going back to planes of the kinds the Wright Brothers flew! Or maybe ditch planes altogether and use horse-drawn carriages! In fact, the problem isn't in hi-tech but in greedy/amoral executives and engineering managers who opted for a lower-cost software work-around to a serious hardware problem. Ironically, this statement comes from a man who flies on the world's most advanced plane and helicopters in terms of control and communication technologies.

2019/03/14 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Pi Day! Beautiful handwriting Chart: Things that happen on the Internet every minute in 2019 (1) Miscellaneous images: [Left] Happy Pi Day! [Center] Beautiful handwriting. [Right] Things that happen on the Internet every minute in 2019.
(2) March 14 (3/14) is the International Pi Day: Google employee Emma Haruka Iwao has calculated a record-breaking 31.4 trillion decimal digits of pi. In case you are wondering how such high-precision versions of pi are obtained, there are essentially three methods.
- Use of the power series expansion of atan(x) = xx^3/3 + x^5/5 – ... together with formulas like pi = 16*atan(1/5) – 4*atan(1/239). This gives about 1.4 decimals per term.
- Use of formulas coming from Arithmetic-Geometric mean computations. They have the advantage of converging quadratically, i.e., you double the number of decimal digits per iteration. For instance, to obtain 1,000,000 decimals, around 20 iterations are sufficient. However, the required computations are complicated.
- Use of complex multiplication of elliptic curves, discovered by S. Ramanujan. Here is an example:
Set a = 545140134; b = 13591409; c = 640320; d = 100100025; e = 327843840; f = 53360;
Then, pi = f sqrt(c)/S, where S = sum_(n = 0 to infinity) (–1)^n ((6n)!(b + na))/(n!^3(3n)!(8de)^n)
This scheme converges linearly, but very fast (more than 14 decimal digits per term).
(3) [Book introduction] Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age: Classicist Donna Zuckerberg, the only Zuckerberg sibling not to have worked in tech, explores the appropriation of the classics by misogynistic communities on-line. The author goes on to connect on-line misogyny to classics worship, particularly the interpretation of the works of authors such as Marcus Aurelius and Ovid to defend the idea that "white men are the guardians of intellectual authority." [Image] [Source: E&T magazine, February 2019]
(4) Fighting misogyny: Iranian women continue to fight mandatory hijab and other misogynistic laws, despite the Supreme Leader's musings: "A woman with hijab is like a framed masterpiece. A woman without hijab is a badly drawn image on a piece of paper." Forcibly-framed women are rebelling! [Cartoon]
(5) A group of my contemporaries from Tehran University's College of Engineering are planning a tour of Iran's Kurdistan region, much like our last year's gathering in Yerevan, Armenia, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our graduation. The tour spans several cities, including Saqqez, the birthplace of my parents. I have always wanted to visit Kurdistan (Kermanshah and Saqqez, in particular), but never got a chance. Alas, I cannot join the group, but will be with them in spirit!
(6) Final thought for the day: Pointed open letter to a female Iranian official, congratulating her on being even more corrupt than her male counterparts, thus demonstrating on the occasion of International Women's Day that women can be equal to men!

2019/03/13 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My mom's haft-seen spread for Norooz 2019 My haft-seen spread at home for Norooz 2019, close-up photo My haft-seen spread at home for Norooz 2019, wide-shot photo (1) Gearing up for Norooz and spring: Yesterday, I did some shopping to complete my mom's haft-seen spread and helped her set it up for Norooz. And I set up my own haft-seen at home, a week before Norooz and the Iranian New Year 1398. Wishing you a happy Norooz, a joyous renewal season, and a wonderful New Year!
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- With a dozen Republican defections, Trump's national emergency declaration is opposed by the US Senate. Veto is certain.
- Paul Manafort receives an additional 3.5 years in prison, and is immediately charged with additional crimes.
- Governor Newsom puts death penalty on hold in California, giving reprieves to 737 death-row inmates.
- Nasrin Sotoudeh will not be silenced by a cruelly-long and utterly unjust prison sentence. [Cartoon]
- Tehran billboard spreads the official message of the Islamic Republic to women: Stay home and multiply!
- Persian Music: An old performance by Parisa, for those who did not get to see her perform on Sunday.
(3) CS Summit at UCSB: After smelling my jasmines, which have bloomed just in time for Norooz, I walked to campus, where I had breakfast and began a full day of attendance at technical presentations (Photos). Immediately after the opening, 10 senior capstone projects were presented, in talks and posters. I was involved in assessing 2 of the senior capstone projects vis-a-vis compliance with ABET design requirements for computer engineering, and the CE students involved in them (each team also had CS students who do not appear in these photos). "NovaSight" provides solutions to problems created owing to data breaches and other security threats by helping users better manage their data and privacy parameters. Team members shown are Fernando Mendoza (left) and Blake Johnson. "Automatic/Intelligent Offer Categorizer" assists merchants with identifying special offers with greater likelihood of being of interest to a given customer. Team members shown are Haochen Shi, Xiao Sun, and Winfred Huang (left to right).
In the late afternoon, Distinguished Lecturer Lise Getoor (Professor, UCSC) spoke under the title "Responsible Data Science." Professor Getoor's talk consisted of three parts: A short introduction to data science, a description of her research contributions to the field, and cautions. Responsible data science addresses both the technical and societal aspects of emerging data-driven technologies, hence Professor Getoor's emphasis on the third part of her talk. Progress in this domain requires successful integration of algorithmic and statistical principles, social science theories, and basic humanist concepts. [Slides]
(4) World Music Series noon concert today: I spent part of my lunch break to attend a concert. The Music Bowl, where UCSB's San Jarocho Ensemble performed, was conveniently close to the CS Summit venue, UCen's Corwin Pavilion. A nice break from non-stop technical presentations! One of these photos shows a sample of the smallish guitars that are carved from a single block of wood. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4]

2019/03/12 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Madrid's city-scape Istanbul's Blue Mosque Quebec City's Quartier Petit Champlain (1) Architectural marvels from around the world: [Left] Madrid's city-scape. [Center] Istanbul's Blue Mosque. [Rignt] Quebec City's Quartier Petit Champlain.
(2) Math puzzle: Starting now, Bill can get to class at 3 PM if he rides his bike at 10 km/hr and at 1 PM if he rides at 15 km/hr. However, his class begins at 2 PM. He should ride at 12.5 km/hr, right?
(3) Deadly software failure: The two Boeing 737 Max 8 planes that crashed over the past 5 months had hardware problems that caused the plane to stall. Rather than modify the hardware, Boeing decided to install a software fix to go around the stalling problem, but failed to notify the pilots or train them to understand the fix. Several countries have grounded the planes but the US continues to insist that they are safe. [Images]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- GDP forecasts are usually too optimistic: The only exception over the past decade was 2018. [NYT chart]
- The many faces of Julia Louis Dryfus: Time magazine feature honoring her as "The Queen of Comedy."
- A mesmerizing, graceful, and athletic dance, using a ring. [5-minute video]
- Instrumental music: "Paola" theme from the movie "State of Siege" (1972), by Mikis Theodorakis.
(5) I am a proud Californian: As this sign, recently installed at the top of the stairs leading to UCSB's West Campus Beach, declares, California leads the way in ocean and coastline restoration and preservation. In my post of yesterday about the Plous Award Lecture, I wrote that the future of humanity depends on the health of our oceans and the lifeforms therein. We should do our best to avoid a repetition of the species extinction trend experienced on land within our oceans.
(6) Visiting the beach during my walk today: This 2-minute video captures the ocean's magnificence during high tide on a super-windy afternoon, which made the Sun's warm rays doubly enjoyable.
(7) College admission scandal: Actresses Felicity Hoffman and Lori Loughlin, along with a number of CEOs and other rich people, have been charged with illegal acts to get their children into elite colleges. The schemes included having stand-ins take tests, faking learning disabilities to get extra time on tests, and bribing athletic departments to recruit their kids for sports they never played.

2019/03/11 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The beautiful city of Lahijan on Iran's Caspian coast Herb-rice and fish is a staple of Norooz family gatherings among Iranians, at home and in diaspora The 3000-year-old village of Uraman Takht (Throne of Ahura Mazda) in eastern Kurdistan, Iran (1) Iran-related images: [Left] The beautiful city of Lahijan on Iran's Caspian coast. [Center] Herb-rice and fish is a staple of Norooz family gatherings among Iranians, at home and in diaspora. [Right] The 3000-year-old village of Uraman Takht (Throne of Ahura Mazda) in eastern Kurdistan, Iran.
(2) Here comes the hidden half of the GOP tax cuts: Significant cuts in Trump's proposed budget to reduce the deficit. Apparently, wealth redistribution is good when money goes from the 99% to the 1%! The budget includes deep cuts to science spending.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Disgusting case of data abuse: Florida cop tried to date 150 women, using the police database.
- Meme of the day: The very crooked balance of the US justice system. [Image]
- NYC will soon have a glass-bottom outdoors observation deck at a height of 1100 feet (100th floor).
- Tucker Carlson exposed as sexualizing underage girls and describing women as "extremely primitive."
- Dutch researcher discovers a personal-info database of women in China, listing their "Breed-Ready" status.
- Human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh receives a final verdict of 38 years in jail and 148 lashes.
(4) The 62nd Annual Harold J. Plous Award Lecture: Douglas McCauley, Associate Professor of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at UCSB, gave the prestigious annual lecture which honors a young researcher in humanities, social sciences, or natural sciences. Speaking under the title "The Past and Future of Wildlife Loss in Our Oceans," Dr. McCauley's theme was whether mass extinction on land and its acceleration after the Industrial Revolution will repeat in our oceans. So far, the oceans have fared better than land with regard to the extinction of animal species, but that may change rapidly, as we endeavor to farm, mine, and, more generally, industrialize our oceans.
Technology is changing our oceans, but the same technology, which brings us industrial-scale fishing, enormous container ships, and many other disruptive elements, provides us with tools to observe, measure, and develop theories of change and strategies for managing the change. Given how important the oceans are to the well-being of the human race, we must act to keep the marine-extinction trend line flat, as opposed to exponentially rising, as observed for land species following the Industrial Revolution. One strategy is to set aside areas as "ocean parks," as we have done on land in the form of National Parks, but there are many other options for international cooperation to avert disaster. [Slides]
P.S.: The beautiful Marine Science Building at UCSB and views from its second-floor terrace, where the reception following the Plous Award Lecture was held. [4 photos]

2019/03/10 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Costume parade in front of Royce Hall at UCLA's 2019 Norooz celebration Haft-seen spread at UCLA's 2019 Norooz celebration Performers posing with women in costumes at UCLA's 2019 Norooz celebration (1) Norooz celebration: The 11th annual celebration of Norooz by Farhang Foundation was held at UCLA's Dickson Court this afternoon. The program consisted of music, by UCLA Bruins Marching Band, LA Daf Ensemble, and Saaz o Dohol Musicians, and dance routines, by Djanbazian Dance Company and Firuze Dance Company, a costume parade, various activities for children/youth, and an evening concert by the renowned singer of classical Persian songs, Parisa, at Royce Hall (I did not attend the concert). Dickson Court held a haft-seen spread and various Norooz-related decorations. [Photos] [4 videos of the costume parade and music/dance performances] [4 videos from the event, where the UCLA Bruins Marching Band was involved]
(2) Shabbat elevators: Writing in the February 2019 issue of E&T magazine, columnist Vitali Vitaliev describes a visit to friends in Israel who live in a high-rise building, with an elevator devoted for use on Saturdays, when observant Jews shun pressing buttons. The elevator door opens automatically upon someone approaching, it closes after a few seconds, and the car stops on every floor! That's 21st-century religion for you!
(3) How long it takes to download an HD movie in various cell-phone technology generations:
1G, 1 month; 2G, 17 hours; 3G, 1 hour; 4G, 2 minutes; 5G, 4 seconds.
(4) Math puzzle: What is the missing number in the following sequence?
10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, 22, 24, __, 100, 121, 10000
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Street art in Tehran: Paintings on a wall along Jomhouri Street. [Tweet image]
- A star is born: Dog sings when his master plays the guitar! [Video]
- Jasmines on a trellis: These aren't my jasmines, which have just begun to bloom. [Photo]
- Titans of tech: Tim Apple, Jeff Amazon, Mark Facebook, Elon Tesla (or is it Elon SpaceX? Elon Boring?).
(6) The first nuclear war ever may well be between India and Pakistan, as border tensions between the two nuclear powers rise over Kashmir and the United States' moderating influence in the region dwindles.
(7) An old friend visiting Santa Barbara: Ali Parsa, who was a grad student at Sharif University of Technology just before I left, edited Computer Report (technical magazine of Informatics Society of Iran, for which I was founding editor) for a few years, and, unknown to both of us, led a parallel life within a few hundreds of feet from my family's residence in Tehran's Vanak neighborhood, visited Santa Barbara on Saturday, along with the Sharifpour family. We had lunch at Fishouse waterfront restaurant. For a couple of hours, we reminisced about our lives in Vanak and our experiences since we last met four decades ago. [Photos]

Cover image for Professor Anne Curzan's course, 'The Secret Life of Words' 2019/03/09 (Saturday): Course review: Curzan, Professor Anne, "The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins," 36 lectures in "The Great Courses" series, 2012. [My 5-star review of this course on GoodReads]
This grand tour of the history of words in the English language is both enjoyable and highly informative. Professor Curzan combines her vast knowledge of English with a story-telling style that holds the listener's attention. The 18 CDs come in three boxes, with a 269-page guide book, which includes a 12-page bibliography.
This link takes you to the publisher's Web page for the course, where hovering over a lecture title gives you a synopsis of that lecture.
A listing of the wonderfully playful lecture titles is perhaps the best way to convey the vast scope and impressive organization of the course.
01 Winning Words, Banished Words    02 The Life of a Word, from Birth to Death
03 The Human Hands Behind Dictionaries    04 Treasure Houses, Theft, and Traps
05 Yarn and Clues—New Word Meanings    06 Smog, Mob, Bling—New Words
07 "Often" versus "Offen"—Pronunciation    08 Fighting over Zippers
09 Opening the Early English Word-Hoard    10 Safe and Sound—The French Invasion
11 Magnifical Dexterity—Latin and Learning    12 Chutzpah to Pajamas—World Borrowings
13 The Pop/Soda/Coke Divide    14 Maths, Wombats, and Les Bluejeans
15 Foot and Pedestrian—Word Cousins    16 Desultory Somersaults—Latin Roots
17 Analogous Prologues—Greek Roots    18 The Tough Stuff of English Spelling
19 The b in Debt—Meddling in Spelling    20 Of Mice, Men, and Y'All
21 I'm Good ... Or Am I Well?    22 How Snuck Sneaked In
23 Um, Well, Like, You Know    24 Wicked Cool—The Irreverence of Slang
25 Boy Toys and Bad Eggs—Slangy Wordplay    26 Spinster, Bachelor, Guy, Due
27 Firefighters and Freshpersons    28 A Slam Dunk—The Language of Sports
29 Fooling Around—The Language of Love    30 Gung Ho—The Language of War
31 Filibustering—The Language of Politics    32 LOL—The Language of the Internet
33 #$@%!—Forbidden Words    34 Couldn't (or Could) Care Less
35 Musquirt and Other Lexical Gaps    36 Playing Fast and Loose with Words
Perhaps the most important insight one gains from this course is that language is a living system that expands, shrinks, and changes as words are born and die and as old words assume new roles. New words are born all the time through various processes, including the introduction of names for new scientific/technological notions, borrowing, slang usage, combining, contraction, and so on.
One should not look down on such new words, even slang ones, as somehow being illegitimate or in violation of "pure language." English, which is predominantly made up of words borrowed from other languages anyway, is what its speakers decide it to be; it cannot or should not be protected against change by academics. Dictionary-makers are sometimes viewed as language arbiters, whereas their role is simply to monitor and explain usage and to track how things change over time.
Here is a snippet of the history of "woman" as a word, which I used on social-media posts on the 2019 International Women's Day (March 8). The word "mann" used to mean "person" in old English. It was later used to form the new word "wifmann" (meaning "female person"). The word "wif," whose counterpart "wer" for "male" somehow disappeared, later also gave rise to "wife."
I highly recommend this course. I will go back and listen to it a second time, before the library loan period expires. Listening once isn't enough to capture the wealth of information dispensed by Curzan.

2019/03/08 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Women's Day greeting, with abstract flowers Behrooz Parhami's Persian poem honoring Women's Day 2019 and Norooz 1398 A few images from March 8 of years past (1) Happy International Women's Day to my women readers and all others who believe in unconditional gender equality. The English word "woman" has an interesting history, which I learned from Professor Anne Curzan's wonderful course (in "The Great Courses" series), entitled "The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins" (I have finished the course and will write a review of it soon). The word "mann" used to mean "person" in old English. It was later used as the basis for the new word "wifmann" (meaning "female person"). The word "wif," whose counterpart "wer" for "male" somehow disappeared, later also gave rise to "wife." The Persian poem is explained under item (2) below. On the right is a collage of images from March 8 of years past.
(2) Persian poetry: Each year, just before Norooz, I compose a Persian poem that celebrates the arrival of spring and its bounties, challenging myself by having the initial letters of the poem's verses spell a cheerful or congratulatory message. For spring 2019 (Norooz 1398 in Persian calendar), I decided to take on an even greater challenge, composing my poem to celebrate Norooz in the first half-verses and women in the second halves, with the initials of the former spelling "Norooz" and the initials of the latter spelling "Women's Day" (in Persian). I am publishing the poem on International Women's Day, March 8, as my gift/message for this important occasion. I will repost the poem in a week or two in celebration of Norooz.
I love puzzles and such compositions are puzzle-like. Starting with the desired initial letters that spell my hidden message, and notions that I would like to include in the poem (spring, flowers, joy, renewal, growth, ... for Norooz, and equality, respect, rights, justice, ... for Women's Day), I go to work trying to put my sentiments into words, while observing the rhyming schemes that have made classical Persian poetry a joy to read/recite. This year, progress was slow in the first couple of days, but I eventually pulled everything together and finished the job. I hope you enjoy my poem! [Facebook post and tweet, both with Persian introductions]
[2-minute video of me reciting the poem on Facebook and on Twitter]
(3) Five crimes committed by women in Iran: Sharing their dance videos on social media, playing with water in the park, watching men play soccer, walking their dogs, and showing their hair in public. [Video]
(4) Violin recital: What better way to end this special day of honoring women than by listening to the exquisite violin music of Anne-Sophie Mutter (Santa Barbara Granada Theater, 7:00 PM). Both halves of the program began with Mozart's Violin Sonatas (K. 304, K. 454). The first half continued with Debussy's Violin Sonata and Ravel's Violin Sonata No. 2. The second half proceeded with Poulenc's Violin Sonata and was followed by a couple of shorter encore pieces. Pianist Lambert Orkis accompanied Mutter. Here are samples of the violin virtuoso's work from YouTube. [39-minute video] [141-minute video, Mozart] [Event flyer]

2019/03/07 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
This 4.5-decades-old photo shows me when I was a doctoral student at UCLA in the early 1970s Sharing a 20-year-old photo of my ex-wife Vida on this fifth anniversary of her passing Undated photo (1960s?), showing one of the metal folding beds my dad manufactured at his mini-factory/workshop in Vanak, Tehran (1) Throwback Thursday: [Left] This 4.5-decades-old photo is courtesy of Sharon Boyajian, who, along with her late husband Don, served as my host family while I was a doctoral student at UCLA. [Center] Sharing a 20-year-old photo of my ex-wife Vida on this fifth anniversary of her passing. RIP. [Right] Undated photo (1960s?), showing one of the metal folding beds my dad manufactured at his mini-factory/workshop in Vanak, Tehran. The frame was made out of iron tubes, bent to the desired shape, using a manual tube-bending implement. The diamond-mesh forming the bed's surface was assembled by hand, using short pieces of metal wire, with hook-like bends at both ends, connected together by putting four hooks through a washer.
(2) Relief from rain: We will be drying out in Santa Barbara and Goleta over the next week. Our rainfall total now stands at 114% of the average for a full water year and at 145% of normal-to-date. [Weather forecast]
(3) The organizer and sponsor of a fashion show in Lavasan, east of Tehran, have been summoned by the police for exhibiting "immoral" clothing without a permit.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has done Muslim-Americans a great disservice by speaking carelessly.
- China will launch the first module of its space station later this year, in an ambitious 3-year project.
- Execution of ethnic minorities rises in Iran, most cases occurring in border regions and in secret.
- Iranian teachers launch nationwide sit-in. [Iranwire story]
- No kabob for you: Soaring meat prices force many Tehran restaurants to close.
- A Kurdish Norooz song and dance.
- Alex Trebek, the most recognizable face of TV game shows, is diagnosed with stage-4 pancreatic cancer.
- Meme of the day: For fans of the game show "Wheel of Fortune." [Image]
(5) Technical talk sponsored by UCSB's Institute for Energy Efficiency: Adam R. Brendt (Professor, Stanford U.) spoke this afternoon under the title "Oil Production in a Climate-Constrained World: Reducing Impacts, Improving Efficiency." Some argue that the time for oil has passed and see no need to study it further. But oil currently provides about 35% of total primary energy supply and meets about 95% of our transportation energy needs. Models predict consumption of more than 1 trillion barrels of oil by the end of the century. Where will this oil come from? What are the impacts of producing, refining, and consuming it? Professor Brendt has spent more than a decade poring over data from the oil industry, which is itself energy-intensive, consuming 3-4% of the total human primary energy (divided nearly equally between production and refining). Understanding the impacts of oil production, as well as exploring the benefits of wise choices in resource prioritization, emissions management, and integration of renewables into oil sector operations are thus important. [Slides]

2019/03/06 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Spectacular lightning display, photographed over Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara last night, Photo 1 Spectacular lightning display, photographed over Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara last night, Photo 3 Spectacular lightning display, photographed over Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara last night, Photo 2 (1) Spectacular lightning display, photographed over Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara last night: Southern California saw more than 2000 pulses of lightning. In Goleta, we had an unusually intense and long thunderstorm in Goleta, CA, seen in this video, captured from behind a French door at my home.
(2) A number of new technologies on the hype cycle, beginning with inflated expectations, continuing with disillusionment, and ending with productive use. [Chart from: E&T magazine, issue of February 2019]
(3) Architecture heals nature: Following the collapse of Malta's famed natural arch in 2017, a team of architects plans to pay homage by replacing it with a landmark that preserves the arch's original size and proportions, while providing 5000 square meters of exhibition space over five spiral floors. [Images] [Source: E&T magazine, issue of February 2019]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The on-line world map, in which countries are scaled by the number of their registered Internet domains.
- Cartoon of the day: Trump hugs and fondles a US flag before starting his 2-hour CPAC speech. [Image]
- After Sadeq Larijani steps down as head of Iran's judiciary, another criminal (Ebrahim Raisi) is appointed.
- Why 'ji32k7au4a83' is a surprisingly common password, appearing in data breache cases 141 times.
- Live-action re-enactment of classic paintings. [4-minute video]
- The 74 km sightseeing railroad of Iran's Luristan Province. [3-minute video, narrated in Persian]
- The difference between doing nothing and doing a tiny bit each day for a year, expressed mathematically.
- Persian poetry: Mr. Haloo recites his humorous poem about the penniless man who kept thanking God.
- According to a Delta Dental survey, the average amount that the Tooth Fairy leaves kids per tooth is $3.70.
(5) World Music Series noon concert: A subset of UCSB's Gospel Choir performed in a nearby classroom instead of the fairly wet Music Bowl. [3-minute video]
(6) Contempt, not incivility or intolerance, tops the list of problems in America today: Our country is more divided now than any time since the Civil War. One in six Americans has stopped talking to a family member or close friend because of the 2016 election.
(7) Math puzzle: Two trains, each moving at 50 km/hr, were approaching each other on the same track. When the trains were 100 km apart, a bee on the front of one train started flying toward the other train at 60 km/hr. When the bee reached the front of the second train, it immediately started back toward the first train, and continued to go back and forth, until the trains collided. How far did the bee fly?

2019/03/05 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
An enlightening representation of the Great Lakes in northern United States and their relationships (1) An enlightening representation of the Great Lakes in the northern US and their relationships: Water level drops quite gradually (suddenly, at Niagara Falls) from 601 feet above sea level to sea level over ~1500 miles.
(2) Computing's environmental impact: We tend to think that computers help make everything more efficient, so they should have a net positive impact on the environment. Not so fast, say Andrew Chien in his CACM Editor's Letter (March 2019 issue). He elaborates that according to a rule known as "Jevons Paradox" (formulated by economist William Stanley Jevons), efficiency tends to increase consumption, so it may end up having a net negative impact. Chien concludes his letter thus: "Let's create technologies and systems that in their manufacture, construction, and operation approach the goal of 100% carbon-free and neutral environmental impact!" [Image]
(3) Lost in beautiful math: The title above is a combination of two attitudes toward mathematics. Some find it beautiful, while others are lost in it! Moshe Vardi's insightful column in CACM's March 2019 issue elaborates on this dichotomy. While seeking mathematical beauty has been the source of many discoveries in math and elsewhere, the lure of beauty can lead us astray. As noted by Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman in response to the question of how economists got it so wrong in the 2008 financial crisis, "the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth." [Image]
(4) Final thought for the day: Government does not give free stuff to anyone. People give free stuff to government in the form of paying for government salaries, benefits, and perks. In return, government provides services, using what is left of the tax money it collects. The Right calls this "socialism" when the services benefit ordinary citizens and "free enterprise" when corporations, the military-industrial complex, and the super-rich are subsidized. [Chart: US individual and corporate taxes as percent of GDP]

2019/03/04 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A beautiful spring-like day on the UCSB campus, Photo 1 A beautiful spring-like day on the UCSB campus, Photo 2 A beautiful spring-like day on the UCSB campus, Photo 3 (1) A beautiful spring-like day on the UCSB campus, sandwiched between 3 days of rain on each side.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- At least 23 died, as a tornado ripped through Lee County in Alabama: The death toll is expected to rise.
- Fox News reportedly had Stormy Daniels' story before the 2016 election, but Rupert Murdoch killed it.
- Steven Colbert on Trump's record-breaking 122-minute CPAC speech, which began with flag-hugging.
- Saudi Arabia mimics Iran in detaining, and allegedly torturing, a dual Saudi-US citizen.
- A beautiful face: A victims of acid-spraying in Isfahan, Iran, in front of her portrait at an exhibition.
- Trump's buddy, Kim Jong Un, had a cyberattack launched against the US during the love-fest in Hanoi.
- A first for commercial space technology: SpaceX's Crew Dragon travels to the International Space Station.
- China's space ambitions include launching a rover to probe Mars in 2020.
A Haji Firooz figurine, with blackened face and large, colored lips (3) Norooz traditions' blackface problem: One fixture in Norooz celebrations is blackface entertainers, dressed in red, dancing and singing on the streets. I have written many times about the need to repeal this racist tradition. A number of friends and acquaintances take issue with my allegation of racism, offering various alternative explanations. One recurring explanation is that Haji Firooz (aka Khajeh Pirooz) dancers on the streets do not represent black people but soot-covered fire-keepers in Zoroastrian fire temples. I have always found this explanation unsatisfactory. First, blackface dancers recite lines that refer to the listener as master ("arbaab"). Second, the fire-keeper interpretation does not explain the large, painted lips on many of these entertainers. We can have fun during Norooz, without denigrating other people. Let's ditch the Haji Firooz tradition!
(4) Iranian human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh faces a 34-year prison term: Each of these ridiculously-long sentences is another nail Iranian judiciary puts in the Islamic regime's coffin. Nasrin Sotoudeh's name is already recorded at the top of the list of the brave and selfless Iranians, who contributed peacefully and nonviolently, to the downfall of an unaccountable and brutal regime, by just speaking the truth. Hats off to her and to Iranian women's movement!
(5) Philosophical maxims, updated for freelancers: "I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think that I'm doing this Skype call with the bottom half of this business-casual outfit on."

2019/03/03 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Damavand village, near Tehran, Iran Two of my favorite snacks, photographed in Tajrish, Tehran The magnificent Mount Judi in the Kurdish region of Turkey (1) Natural wonders: [Left] Damavand village, near Tehran, Iran. [Center] Two of my favorite snacks (fresh almonds and green plums, which signal the arrival of spring), photographed in Tajrish square, northern Tehran. [Right] The magnificent Mount Judi in the Kurdish region of Turkey.
(2) Communication of the ACM's March 2019 interview with Fei-Fei Li, Co-Director of Stanford University's Human-Centered AI Institute, who wants to create algorithms that can learn the way human babies do.
(3) The cost of knowledge: Negotiations between University of California and Elsevier publishing company fail over high cost, leading to cut-off of free access to many scientific journals for our students and faculty. UC aimed to negotiate a complete package that included both access to journals and pre-payment of open-access publishing fees. Alternative access methods, through inter-library loans and other mechanisms, are being explored by the administration. Here is a report by The Atlantic on the failed UC-Elsevier negotiations.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A wonderful verse from Sa'adi, which has four variations in different sources.
- Super-fresh herbs and Persian cucumbers I brought back from Los Angeles. [Photo]
- I have fond memories of this sandwich shop in northern Tehran: Sharing, in case others remember it too.
- GPS device found on a dead eagle shows its movements over a 20-year period.
- Egyptian tourist at Parhami Traditional House (no relation) in Shiraz, during her second visit to Iran.
- Work has begun in converting the closed K-mart in Goleta, CA, to a Target store, the first in our area.
(5) Today, I drove to the Chatsworth area of San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles to visit a dear old college classmate and friend who is in poor health. He has been living in that area with his family, ever since he suffered a stroke in 2015, but I was unaware of his whereabouts until fairly recently. I talked with him about our good-old days in Tehran and our subsequent e-mail communications, which lasted until a few years ago, when I lost contact with him. He was visibly cheered up when I showed him the photos of our college days, our group's 50th graduation anniversary reunion in Yerevan, Armenia (which he could not attend), last year, and the recent celebration of Fanni's Alumni Association in Tehran. [Photos]

2019/03/02 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Physicist Michio Kaku's books, batch 2 Physicist Michio Kaku's books, batch 1 (1) Physicist Michio Kaku's books: His next book is The Future of Humanity: Our Destiny in the Universe.
(2) Quote of the day: "When scientists use the word God, they usually mean the God of Order ... However, to the nonscientists, the word God almost universally refers to the God of Miracles, and this is the source of miscommunication between scientists and nonscientists." ~ American theoretical physicist Michio Kaku
(3) A capsule review of linear algebra: If you are looking for an introduction to linear algebra or need to quickly review the main topics in an easily presented, intuitive format, this set of 14 videos, running 4-17 minutes each, is recommended.
(4) Donald J. Trump: The great businessman who hides his tax returns. The genius who ordered his grades sealed. The innocent man who won't answer questions under oath.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- An 11-year-old girl, impregnated by her step-grandfather, is denied abortion in Argentina.
- Trump mocks his former AG's Southern accent during his CPAC speech: And Southerners still support him?
- Are our national and state-level politics moving us towards Third-World status in civil discourse?
- Iran's government is subsidizing each Hajj pilgrim ~$2000 in the form of discounted exchange rate. [Tweet]
- Santa Barbara County rainfall stands at 139% of year-to-date and 103% of the total water-year amount.
- A giant sunfish, with home in the Australian waters, washed up on Coal Oil Point beach in Goleta, CA.
- Senate probes China-funded Confucius Institute at US colleges, given that US has no reciprocal rights.
- Michael Jackson is back in the news, owing to a 4-hour HBO documentary about his private life.
(6) Fatemeh Kamarkhani, the Iranian woman who exposed the marriage of an 11-year-old girl to a 50-year-old man, has been laid off from her government job. [Tweet]
(7) The first woman to ever run a marathon in the US disguised her sex by entering her initials on the sign-up sheet. When she was discovered, a man tried to force her out of the race, but she persisted.
(8) "Beatles Revolutions" film series at UCSB's Pollock Theater: The fifth and final installment of the series, "Yellow Submarine" (1968) was screened this afternoon. This animated film, with a minimalist plot, happens in the psychedelic paradise of Pepperland and features 11 Beatles tunes, mostly from the "Sergeant Pepper" album. Concurrent with the film's 50th anniversary year, a graphic-novel adaptation was published. Writer Bill Morrison and colorist Nathan Kane participated in a moderated discussion after the screening. [Images]

2019/02/28 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
This will send a clear message to ruthless dictators the world over. Don't make us come to your doorstep and bombard you with compliments! They are not invaders--they're here to install the storm screens This cartoon (Joey's Authentic Italian Pizza) needs no explanation! (1) Cartoons galore (the first two from New Yorker): [Left] "This will send a clear message to ruthless dictators the world over. Don't make us come to your doorstep and bombard you with compliments!" [Center] "They are not invaders—they're here to install the storm screens." [Right] This cartoon needs no caption!
(2) Facebook post of the day, for my Persian-speaking readers: It is a pet peeve of mine too that when a singer or other artist appears on a Persian TV show, the host often compliments and thanks the guest profusely, as if his/her appearance on the show is a great favor to the audience or a major personal sacrifice.
(3) Data transmission speed (bandwidth) record, beyond what was thought theoretically possible, is set on a 4000-mile transatlantic cable jointly owned by Facebook and Microsoft.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Northern California, devastated by fires a few months ago, now faces the worst flooding in decades.
- High prices will prevent foldable smartphones from going mainstream in 2019.
- Cartoon of the day: Pope's nonexistent plan of action on clergy sex abuse. [Image]
- Today's cartoon caption: "The President wants to know if North Korea's missiles can reach Michael Cohen."
- Iranian labor activists face intense pressure for confessing on TV to trumped-up crimes.
- Iranian dance: Costumes and some moves look Kurdish but the music is from the Persian Gulf region.
- Persian music: The pains and struggles of those who carry impossibly heavy loads on their backs.
(5) ECE Distinguished Lecture, today at UCSB: Dr. John Paul Strachan (Head of the Rebooting Computing Team at HP Labs, Palo Alto, CA) spoke under the title "A New Era for Exploring Power Efficient Hardware Accelerators: Devices, Architectures, and Lab Demonstrations." This fascinating talk's thesis was that significant performance gains in future will depend on exploiting circuits and devices beyond CMOS, as well as on hardware-software co-design of special-purpose (application-specific) systems. Examples pursued at HP Labs include new circuits and architectures for accelerating finite automata, used in rapid pattern-matching applications, and leveraging the analog and non-volatile nature of memristor arrays to accelerate machine learning and image processing. Dr. Strachen also described how noise can be harnessed in analog circuits to build a "classical annealer" for solving optimization problems at lower latency and energy than any digital system or even the quantum annealers currently being pursued. [14 slides]

2019/02/27 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
History in pictures: Nancy Pelosi, 20, with JFK at the 1962 Democratic Convention Cover image of Bernie Sanders' latest book 'Where We Go from Here' Senator Chuck Schumer's snior-year high school yearbook photo, 1967 (1) Images of US Democratic politicians, then and now: [Left] Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, 20, with JFK at the 1962 Democratic Convention. [Center] Cover image of Bernie Sanders' latest book (2018), reviewed below. [Right] Senator Chuck Schumer's snior-year high school yearbook photo, 1967.
(2) Liquid electrical tape: Let me share some information about a product that I bought recently. Over time, I had accumulated several iPhone/iPad charging cords, repaired with electrical tape at the device end. Yesterday, I repaired three of them by applying liquid electrical tape over the cord's end. Once the liquid tape dries, the cord becomes as good as new. It won't look as good as the original, but certainly better than one repaired with ordinary electrical tape. [Photo]
(3) Trump supporters have sunk to the lowest low, one Congressman threatening Michael Cohen with revealing info about his girlfriends if he is hostile to Trump.
(4) "Beatles Revolutions" film series at UCSB's Pollock Theater: Tonight's film, "Across the Universe" (2007), the fourth in a series of five and the most-recently made, defies classification. It is a musical featuring 33 Beatles songs, many of them re-imagined and performed by mostly-unknown artists, the only exception being Bono, who has a brief role. The Beatles themselves are never mentioned or shown in the film. The visuals are from the lives of young people in the 1960s, including street and campus protests against the Vietnam War. There are several dance routines, wonderfully choreographed, some in the style of Michael Jackson videos. All in all a wonderful visual and aural experience that shows the continued preeminence and relevance of Beatles music. A moderated discussion with music and cultural critic Greil Marcus followed the screening. [Images]
(5) Book review: Sanders, Bernie, Where We Go from Here: Two Years in the Resistance, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Mcmillan Audio, 2018. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Bernie Sanders rose to his current Senate seat, working his way up from the mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He defines himself as a Democratic Socialist and labels the grassroots movement he started "Our Revolution." I like and support many of Sanders' ideas: Universal healthcare, tuition-free college for all, raising the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour, paid parental leave, dealing with climate change, and supporting labor unions. He discusses these ideas in detail, presenting them in a form resembling diary entries, each beginning with a date and perhaps a venue. He draws liberally from his previous writings and speeches.
As I write this review, Sanders has declared his intention to run for US presidency in 2020. I picked up this book to learn more about his ideas, considering that he is a serious contender for the Democratic Party's presidential candidacy. And this is what worries me.
In addition to advanced age, which makes him somewhat inflexible and learning-challenged (such as continuing to mispronounce certain country names), Sanders has limited appeal to moderate Americans. He fires up his supporters, much like Trump does his base, with rosy projections, without saying much about their practical implementation. The only concrete proposal one hears from Sanders is raising taxes on the rich. I don't object to this method, but I am not sure it will generate enough revenue to fund all the programs he advocates.
Sociopolitical changes occur in small, incremental steps, except in disruptive revolutions. It would be much wiser for him to focus on his most important proposals, such as universal healthcare and raising of the minimum wage, and turn them into a couple of compelling and easily digestible slogans/policies. Throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, into the mix dilutes the message and feeds the narrative that he is an out-of-touch idealist. This is how politics works in the US: Covering too many topics is counterproductive and raises the danger of losing the voters' attention. Furthermore, I wish he would stop talking about "socialism" and "revolution," as these words aren't popular these days, and they make some Americans uncomfortable.
Sanders is very skillful with data and is always able to cite pertinent facts and figures about the US economy. He is less versed in foreign policy and international affairs, including the global economy. Like Trump, Sanders adeptly hones in on grievances of the working class, and, alas, like Trump, he essentially says that everything would be wonderful if his policies were implemented.
Having listened to Where We Go from Here, I know more about Sanders' stance on various issues, but still not enough about how he plans to win the presidency by bringing in moderate Democrats and center-left independents. I am sorry to say that I do not see the appeal to a broad base that would help him overcome the predictable insults and attacks from Trump, who seems to prefer Sanders to other Democratic candidates, perhaps thinking that Sanders would be easier to bloody in a man-to-man fight.

2019/02/26 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme: When my child hits another child with a stick, I don't blame the stick, but I still take the stick away Graduating college student with a sense of humor: Game of Loans is coming! Three fortune from cookies to choose from (1) Two memes and three fortunes: [Left] Meme suggesting that the slogan "Guns don't kill, people do" is misguided. [Center] Graduating college student with a wonderful sense of humor! [Right] My son and I had lunch together on Sunday and, since he didn't want his fortune cookie, I took both, to double my chances of getting a good reading. One cookie had two fortunes in it, so I ended up having three choices!
(2) Technological evil: Kalashnikov, the company that gave us the notorious AK-47, the killing machine used by soldiers in combat and by deranged mass-shooters on our streets, has introduced a kamikaze-style "suicide drone," an exploding flying machine that will bring low-cost mass-murder to the masses. As if the job of law enforcement wasn't hard enough already!
(3) Race matters: Kian Karamdashti writes in Daily Nexus, UCSB's student newspaper, about his experiences growing up mixed. Having an Iranian father and a Mexican mother, he was doubly stereotyped.
(4) The future of economy-class flights: A British company has designed a plane seat made of a smart fabric that allows passengers to control seat temperature, tension, pressure, and movement, all via a phone app.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump's prediction that he'll have a "very tremendous summit" with Kim Jong Un reminded me of this chart.
- Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku in a 3-hour mind-expanding C-SPAN interview about everything.
- Tweet of the day [image]: For my Persian-speaking readers. [By the prolific tweeter Aida Ahadiany]
- Plous Award Lecture at UCSB: Douglas McCauley on "The Past and Future of Wildlife Loss in Our Oceans."
(6) Amtrak's Coast Starlight Train 11, traveling with 183 on board from Seattle to Los Angeles, has been stranded near Oakridge, Oregon, since Sunday evening, when it hit a fallen tree on the snow-covered tracks.
(7) Revealed for the first time: A 2014 FBI visit to the museum-like home of a beloved 90-year-old engineer revealed a huge collection of illegally-obtained treasures and historical artifacts from around the world, including about 2000 human bones dug up from Native-American burial grounds.
(8) Another one of Seth Meyers' insightful "A Closer Look" comedy news segments, this one dealing with the 2020 Democratic primary and Trump's plans to cause chaos in the crowded field.
(9) This Trump tweet is even more idiotic than what we have become accustomed to over the last 2+ years.
- HOLD THE DATE: We already hold the July 4th date every year to salute America!
- Major fireworks display: Noooo! Fireworks on 4th of July? That's so innovative!
- Your favorite President: He had to add "me," to ensure no one thought of Obama!
Shame on Trump for turning an occasion that unites all Americans into a hate-speech-filled political rally!

2019/02/25 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Message of love in a photo of fallen blossoms Message of love in a calligraphically-rendered Mowlavi (Rumi) verse Happy Sepandarmazgan, on the alternate date of February 24, not February 18 (1) Expressions of love: [Left & Center] Messages of love in a photo and in a calligraphically-rendered Mowlavi (Rumi) verse. [Right] Sepandarmazgan and its alternate date: In this 18-minute sound clip, in Persian, Dr. Shokoufeh Taghi offers her scholarly opinion, based on historical sources, on why Sepandarmazgan (or Esfandarmazgan), the ancient Iranian festival honoring women and Earth, should not be viewed as the "Iranian Valentine's Day" and why its correct date is 5th of Esfand (February 24; see my blog post of February 14).
(2) Analogies sometimes fail miserably: Pope Francis put his foot in his mouth again when he said that sexual abuse of children reminded him of the ancient religious practice of child sacrifice in pagan rites. While the abhorrent practice of human sacrifice was at least done with noble, though obviously misguided, intentions, I do not believe that a priest penetrating or otherwise abusing a child entertains any noble thoughts at the time.
(3) NASA renames building for "Hidden Figures" mathematician: The Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility in Fairmont, WV, honors the African-American woman who overcame bias and discrimination to rise in the ranks of NASA scientists during the 1950s and 1960s.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Company employing autistic visual-effects artists was involved in the Oscar-winning film "Black Panther."
- Would you sell 39 years of your life for $21M? That's what happened to a wrongfully-convicted man.
- Does this 2-page spread in NRA's magazine advocate violence against Nancy Pelosi and Gabby Giffords?
- Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has reportedly resigned for unknown reasons. [Aljazeera report]
- Evidence that global warming is caused by humans reaches five-sigma level, a gold standard in science.
- Kahuna Grill, fixture at Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace, has closed, to be replaced by a burger joint.
(5) Just watched the 26-minute film "Period. End of Sentence." which won the Oscar for best documentary short subject last night. In certain countries, girls are forced to end their education due to the inconvenience of cleaning up and changing in school during menstruation and, in part, because of patriarchal attitudes toward this very natural bodily function. The film's title is its thesis: That periods should only end sentences, not girls' education. Even in our advanced, modern society here in the US, a few social-media discussants considered it unfortunate that a film about such an undignified and cringe-inducing topic has been deemed worthy of an Oscar. There is no shame in any bodily function and no cringing is required! For centuries, if not millennia, women have been put down because of physiological differences with men, so much so that girls and women feel awkward discussing the topic or asking for help/guidance. It's time to bring the biases to the forefront and shame those who think girls/women become "dirty" when they menstruate. While this is happening primarily in Third-World societies, there are quite a few examples of it here in the US. Kudos to Iranian-American film-maker Rayka Zehtabchi for wonderfully documenting these injustices and unhealthy attitudes. [Film's trailer]

2019/02/24 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cloud waves rolling over the hills in Iran's Guilan Province The beautiful Vank Cathedral in Isfahan is unique in combining Iranian and Armenian architectural elements A traditional roadside cafe in Masouleh, Iran (1) Iran-related images: [Left] Cloud waves in Iran's Guilan Province. Here's a time-lapse video of cloud waves rolling over the hills in the same region. [Center] The beautiful Vank Cathedral in Isfahan is unique in combining Iranian and Armenian architectural elements. [Right] A traditional roadside cafe in Masouleh, Iran.
(2) President Barack Obama on being a man: How men are pressured in our society to exaggerate the traits deemed to represent "manhood." If you've got it, you don't need to flaunt it.
(3) Sepideh Moradi, 24, a talented and high-achieving graduate student, was expelled from a master's-degree program at Iran's Teacher Training University and dealt a 2-year prison term for belonging to a dervish sect.
(4) Great advice: Don't drink-and-drive! Because there are people out there who text-and-drive, and they will hit you, and it will be your fault.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- "Compassionate treatment at the border isn't the same as open borders." ~ Stacy Abrams' SOTU response
- You will soon be able to bike across the US, from sea to shining sea, on a 4000-mile trail.
- Marie Kondo's Netflix show has sparked a junk-clearing surge; thrift stores are now setting donation limits.
- "I'm the help. I'm like, 'What do your kids need? What can I do for you?'" ~ Chef Sandra Lee
(6) Women started the tech industry, but lost ground to sexism, reports Washington Post: "Silicon Valley's sexism has been thrust into the public eye in recent months, but women were initially at the forefront of the industry, back when technologist jobs were considered menial. However, as the industry became profitable, male executives developed hiring criteria and workplace cultures that sidelined women," according to Longpath Lab's Emma Goldberg.
(7) Business and society: "We should rid ourselves of the belief that business innovation inherently means social progress." ~ Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International
(8) The 91st annual Academy Awards (2019): Here are the results in major categories. Amazingly, a Mexican film-maker has won for directing in five of the past 6 years. And here is the complete list.
- Motion picture (director): "Green Book" directed by Peter Farrelly (Alfonso Cuaron for "Roma")
- Foreign-language film: "Roma" from Mexico, directed by Alfonso Cuaron
- Original (adapted) screenplay: "Green Book," Nick Vallelonga et al ("BlacKkKlansman," Charlie Wachtel et al)
- Original song (score): "Shallow" from "A Star Is Born," Lady Gaga et al ("Black Panther," Ludwig Goransson)
- Actor in leading (supporting) role: Rami Malek, "Bohemian Rhapsody" (Mahershala Ali, "Green Book")
- Actress in leading (supporting) role: Olivia Colman, "The Favourite" (Regina King, "If Beale Street Could Talk")
(9) Final thought for the day: ISIS brides, who regret their voluntary choices and want to return to the US, should wait in line behind all those who are fleeing ISIS atrocities.

2019/02/22 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Drought map of California Spring in Japan: Mt. Fuji Image of a typewriter and paper, with 'white-out' blobs (1) Images of the day: [Left] After 7 years, Santa Barbara, like most of California, is out of the drought: At most "moderate drought" (colored orange on the map) lingers in some parts of our state, according to the official United States Drought Monitor site. [Center] Spring in Japan: Mt. Fuji (Undated and unattributed photo). [Right] Do we write differently on a screen than on paper? Yes, we do, according to this New Yorker article. When we write directly onto a computer and publish our work on-line, "The mind becomes locked into an obsessive, manic back-and-forth. When immediate confirmation is not forthcoming, there is a sense of failure. Suddenly, the writer, very close to his public, is tempted to work hard and fast to please immediately, superficially, in order to have immediate gratification for himself in return. Curiously, the apparent freedom of e-mail and the Internet makes us more and more conformist as we talk to each other unceasingly."
(2) Musings of Islamic Republic officials over the years, from "Economics is for donkeys" to "Women attending universities is one of our misfortunes." [Image of quotations in Persian]
(3) What a disgrace! The Islamic Republic's propaganda machine does not even have the talent to compose a new song with their message, so they destroy the beloved "Ey Iran" anthem, the de-facto national anthem for the regime's opponents, by putting new words to it. [Video]
(4) With Trump calling the Mueller investigation a hoax, a witch hunt, and a Democratic ploy, it would be quite natural if Americans similarly dismissed the investigation's report if it exonerated Trump!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Guns/ammo confiscated from a domestic US terrorist planning to kill anti-Trump politicians and journalists.
- The Pope now says that victims [of sexual abuse] need to be believed. Really? What took him so long?
- Top 15 best global brands: From 2000 to 2012, Coca Cola was on top. Then Apple took its place. [Video]
- Angelinos see snow for the first time in decades! [LA Times story]
- Medical staff fired or placed on leave for administering lethal doses of fentanyl to dozens of patients.
- The trial of Iranian environmentalists by the Islamic regime. [Cartoon from Iranwire.com]
- "Navel," a poem by Robin Coste Lewis, Poet Laureate of Los Angeles & author of Voyage of the Sable Venus.
(6) Quote of the day: "We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done." ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(7) Extreme hypocrisy: Some 200 dervishes remain in prison in Iran, while Khamenei sheds crocodile tears over the treatment of Yellow-Vest protesters in France.
(8) National Engineers Week 2019 Celebration tonight [Photos]: I was part of a 6-member delegation that traveled to the awards/honors ceremony at Cal State Channel Islands in Camarillo as representatives of IEEE Central Coast Section. Those honored included scholarship winners, a distinguished engineer, an exceptional teacher, and engineers and projects of the year. Dinner was served before the awards. A keynote lecture by Dr. Earl Maize, a NASA engineer at JPL, concluded the program.
This year, Cal State Channel Islands has added a mechatronics engineering program to a previously established program on cyber-security. In both areas, projects by student teams and collaboration with industry are pursued vigorously. CSU-CI is a relatively new Cal State Campus, with an enrollment of about 7000 students in 26 majors. Almost 2/3 of the students are women.

2019/02/21 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Trump's 'Pocahontas' slur should be countered with 'Pinocchio'! Evidence of rampant literary theft in Iran (Web-store screen shots) An accomplished woman athlete tells men who insulted her to come get their sandwiches at the South Pole! (1) Memes of the day: [Left] Cartoon retort: Trump's "Pocahontas" slur should be countered with "Pinocchio"! [Center] Literary theft is alive and well in Iran: A book of poetry published in 2009 is republished 7 years later under a different author's name. Many friends have experienced this kind of theft, and they have no legal recourse, particularly if they live outside Iran. [Right] An accomplished woman athlete tells men who insulted her to come get their sandwiches at the South Pole!
(2) Sea change in the House: Elaine Luria, 43, an incoming Navy veteran and nuclear engineer, seeks to promote evidence-based thinking on Capitol Hill. Representing Virginia's coastal Hampton Roads, home to world's largest naval base, Luria has already secured a seat on the Armed Services Committee and has pledged "to create solutions that serve all Americans." [Source: ASEE Prism magazine, issue of February 2019] [Photo]
(3) A White-Nationalist was arrested with a stockpile of weapons and ammunition he planned to use for a widespread domestic terror attack targeting politicians and journalists. Several news anchors were on the former Coast Guard lieutenant's hit-list. [Source: Washington Post]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Unusual weather today: More snow in Las Vegas and pea-size hail on Santa Barbara beaches!
- Bill Maher's open letter to Roseanne contains a lot of great points, as usual. [8-minute video]
- One East-Coaster to another: "I've blocked all Instagram pics from California." [New Yorker cartoon caption]
- "A hurtful act is the transference to others of the degradation which we bear in ourselves." ~ Simone Weil
(5) An informal credibility poll, whose final results will become available later, has New York Times winning over Donald Trump 93% to 7% thus far. [Tweet images]
(6) Hostile guest on Fox News: Tucker Carlson's guest turns on him, and he doesn't like it one bit when the guest characterizes Fox News anchors as "millionaires funded by billionaires"!
(7) Silent film screening at UCSB's Pollock Theater, with live musical accompaniment: Tonight's black-and-white film was the recently-rediscovered John Ford classic comedy "Upstream" (1927). A post-screening reception allowed audience members to mingle with the musical performers Michael Mortilla (piano/composer), Nicole Garcia (violin/percussion), and Frank Macchia (mixed woodwinds). [Images]
(8) Final thought for the day: One greedy, selfish, and self-promoting person ("Empire" actor Jussie Smollett) has dealt a major blow to the cause of homosexuals and other targets of real hate crimes.

2019/02/20 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos from IEEE Central Coast Section's technical meeting on February 20, 2019 Some items displayed in a photo exhibit in connection with celebrating in Tehran the 50th anniversary of our graduation from Tehran University's College of Engineering (1) Today's major events: [Left] IEEE Central Coast Section technical meeting at Rusty's Pizza in Goleta (5934 Calle Real): Behrooz Parhami spoke to about two-dozen attendees on "Promoting Technological Literacy through Mathematical and Logical Puzzles." Here are the talk's slides, which include an abstract and links to a number of pertinent YouTube videos. IEEE CCS meetings are held on the third Wednesday of each month at 6:00 PM. We already have an exciting line-up of speakers, all the way to November 2019. (P.S.: The panoramic photo was taken a few minutes before the talk began and after the pizzas were gone!) [Center] Displays at a photo exhibit in connection with celebrating the 50th anniversary of our graduation from Tehran University's College of Engineering. The empty swimming pool is at our family home in Vanak, Tehran, Iran. [Right] Photos from the February 20 celebration gala in Tehran, to mark the 50th anniversary of our graduation from Tehran University's College of Engineering. [More photos] [Videos, batch 1] [Videos, batch 2, from an earlier gathering]
(2) Cryptic quote of the day [each letter stands for a different letter]: "HB HC HRXEV XDWVW'B CE HNXECEPG, NCZWBB GEN'VW YVWYHVWI XE VJBT XDW YEBBJAJZJXG EM BXHVSJCF." ~ AWC TJCFBZWG
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A refugee family fled civil war in Syria, only to have all 7 of their children die in a house fire in Canada.
- Massive winter storm is affecting wide areas of the US: More than 1000 flights have been cancelled.
- The case for optimism: Thirty-four people try to change how we see our world. [Time magazine feature]
- Cartoon of the day: Music thrives in Iran, despite official bans, restrictions, and censorship. [Image]
(4) The swamp lives on: E-mails between Senate Majority Leader and Trump's Secretary of Transportation reveal a cozy relationship that led to granting infrastructure contracts and other favors.
(5) Bully-in-Chief's bully-friend Roger Stone posts photo of Judge Amy Berman Jackson (who issued a gag order against him) with crosshairs: He calls Mueller "Deep State hitman" and solicits money for his defense fund. How ironic that billionaires are asking for handouts from the lower and middle classes!
(6) Extreme hypocrisy: All the rich folk screaming for a border wall employ undocumented immigrants to maximize their personal and business wealth. The Wall-Builder-in-Chief has done it, and his nominee for UN Ambassadorship, Heather Nauert, has withdrawn her name from consideration over a "nanny problem."
(7) Israel will become the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon: The spacecraft, to be launched using SpaceX's Falcon 9 commercial rocket, is carrying capsules filled with Israeli national symbols, Jewish cultural items, and digital files detailing how this project came about. It also holds a tiny nanotech version of the Bible. That last item spoiled the whole thing! [Reported by Washington Post]
(8) As I walked back home this afternoon through Isla Vista, spring was in the air, even though its official arrival is still one month (4 weeks) away: Spring equinox (Norooz; Saal-Tahveel 1398) will be on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, at 2:58:27 PM California time. [Photo of blossoms on an Isla Vista street]

2019/02/19 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Justice, as defined by the ruling class! (Artist unknown) Scatter-plot of prevalence of mass shootings in some world countries versus the number of guns owned Impoverished kids in southeastern Iran playing a version of basketball (1) Miscellaneous images: [Left] Justice, as defined by the ruling class! (Artist unknown) [Center] Anyone who sees this chart and fails to acknowledge the direct impact of the number of guns in a society on the prevalence of mass shootings is science-averse. [Right] FIBA has shared on its official Web site this photo of impoverished kids in southeastern Iran playing a version of basketball.
(2) UCSB researchers advocate a change in biofuel sourcing, from currently used crops to deep-rooted prairie grass, e.g., which is better able to store carbon and also can grow in extremely infertile lands.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Internet explodes in response to Trump's tweet re Andrew McCabe's "60 Minutes" interview. [Tweets]
- Trump uses "many stats" as basis for his fake emergency declaration, but he wouldn't name his sources.
- Quote: "A fault that humbles a man is of greater value than a virtue that puffs him up." ~ Anonymous
- The Israeli group Carmel A-cappella performs Beethoven's 5th Symphony with just voices. [4-minute video]
(4) Bernie Sanders runs again: I am ambivalent about Sanders's candidacy. This speech from 15 years ago is prophetic about how Republicans implement pro-1% policies by skillfully branding them as pro-working-class and by sowing discord between white and colored, religious and non-religious, men and women, and so on. They have now added the evil of "socialism" to their lexicon for 2020. On the other hand, I am not sure I want to have another old, inflexible, learning-challenged person in the White House, no matter how much better than the current old fool he is. I am listening to the audiobook of Sanders's Where We Go from Here (read by Sanders himself) and cringe every time he says "eye-ran" and "eye-raq." Surely, he has been told many times about the correct pronunciations for country names!
(5) Extreme weather over the past couple of weeks: A plane is forced to land after being struck by lightning. Another plane's speed increased to 779 MPH, a record, due to a 224 MPH tailwind.
(6) "The Milan Protocol": This is the title of a 2017 film by German director Peter Ott, screened at UCSB's Pollock Theater tonight. In this gripping film, with theme music to match, a German female doctor (played by Catrin Striebeck), working in the Kurdish region of Iraq, is abducted while traveling in an ISIS-controlled region of Syria. The abductors identify themselves as former ISIS members who are trying to escape with their lives, apparently wanting to use their hostage as a bargaining chip. The hostage situation brings into play many shady players, including men from intelligence agencies of Germany, Turkey, and Iraq, and a slew of subplots involving smuggling and illegal arms deals, leaving the doctor confused as to whom she can trust. The story is told with frequent flashbacks and a mixture of reality, dreams, and false memories, which add to the layered complexity of the film. The dialog is in German, English, and Arabic, again adding to the mystery. Ott was scheduled to appear for a post-screening discussion, but visa problems led to the replacement of the in-person interview with a taped one, which was screened immediately after the film.

2019/02/18 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Nine of America's great Presidents The long and Martian road: NASA's Opportunity Mars rover looking back at its own trail Full-scale models of two Mars rovers, on display at NASA's JPL (1) Today's images: [Left] Happy Presidents' Day: "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader." ~ John Quincy Adams [Center] The long and Martian road: NASA's Opportunity Mars rover looking back at its own trail. [Right] Full-scale models of two Mars rovers, on display at NASA's JPL: In front is Opportunity, which, after many years of service, became unresponsive due to a recent Martian sand storm. In the back is Curiosity, which is still operational. (Credit: Faramarz Davarian)
(2) Andrew McCabe talks to "60 Minutes" about reasons for opening a counterintelligence investigation into Trump: A very important conversation for the future of America. [28-minute video]
(3) Dictatorial tendencies rear their ugly heads: Un-American mindset of a substitute teacher in Florida leads to the arrest of an 11-year-old who refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Happy Sepandarmazgan, the venerable Iranian festival celebrating love, women, friendship, and Earth.
- Ivanka Trump sat awkwardly, as Angela Merkel hammered her dad.
- FAA will be mandating that registration numbers be affixed to the exterior of small drones. [Source: Reuters]
- Nuclear-powered "worm robots" could bore for life through the icy shell of Jupiter's moon Europa.
- A brand new wine: For those who are tired of frequent trips to the bathroom. [Cartoon]
- Familiar faces, aging before our eyes, some very gracefully, others not so much. [3-minute video]
- How our young folk treat our elderly, nowadays. [Photo]
- Persian poetry: A few loverly verses from Simin Behbahani (Khalili) [1927-2014].
- Henan Shaolin Tagou School teens demonstrate Chinese martial arts with precision, grace, and power.
- Aspiring artists who became engineers: Priceless photo of a late friend and me, taken 50+ years ago.
(5) Reproducibility crisis in science: In some branches of science, existing large datasets are analyzed and deductions are made that do not stand the test of time. A large dataset is still one dataset, and in some cases, the patterns observed may not exist when a second dataset comes along.
(6) Israeli TV exposes the Iranian threat: From markets to restaurants, Persian cuisine is spreading in Israel. This 8-minute report is narrated in Hebrew, but food images should be understandable to all!
(7) National emergency in our president's skull: "Trump has declared war on our institutions because of a fantasy, in which he saves imaginary women, bound with imaginary tape, from imaginary rape." ~ LA Times

2019/02/17 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Persian music legend Esmat Bagherpour Baboli, aka Delkas, 1925-2004: Photo 1 Persian music legend Esmat Bagherpour Baboli, aka Delkas, 1925-2004: Photo 2 Portrait of actress Golshifteh Farahani by unknown artist (1) Iranian artists: [Left & Center] Persian music legend Esmat Bagherpour Baboli, aka Delkash, 1925-2004. [Right] Portrait of actress Golshifteh Farahani by unknown artist: Screenshot from an unlabeled music video.
(2) My forthcoming technical talk, entitled "Promoting Technological Literacy through Mathematical and Logical Puzzles," at a meeting of IEEE Central Coast Section: Rusty's Pizza, 5934 Calle Real, Goleta, CA, Wednesday, February 20, 2019, 6:00 PM. Pizza, salad, and beverages will be served. [Flyer]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The US government "informally" asked Japan to nominate Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize.
- Cartoon of the day: GOP national-emergency plan entails politicians rolling over on command! [Image]
- We do have a national emergency , but it's at the border between the rich and the poor. [Meme]
- Wonderful music for this Sunday: Five-year-old plays Bach! [2-minute video]
(4) Remembering and honoring my father yesterday, on the 27th anniversary of his passing: Despite many on-line appearances of this Persian poem, the poet remains unknown to me. Interestingly, some of the postings have removed the last verse, which mentions an edict from the prophet, presumably Muhammad. I will also retell parts of the story of my dad's fruitful life by recalling some of the places where he worked and lived, from a post I made last month about Vanak. [Photos] [Videos] My kids are all at home for the Presidents-Day weekend, so we took this commemorative photo after Sunday's breakfast at the kitchen counter.
(5) Prefixes for metric units of measurement: We all know the first three "huge" prefixes below, and perhaps even the next three, used, for example, in connection with supercomputer performance (e.g., petaflops). Now, get ready for the last four prefixes on the list, two of which are still awaiting approval from international bodies in charge of standard units.
10^3 kilo    10^6 mega    10^9 giga    10^12 tera    10^15 peta    10^18 exa
10^21 zeta    10^24 yotta    10^27 ronna    10^30 quecca
On the other end of the scale, to designate very small quantities, we have the following "tiny" prefixes:
10^–3 milli   10^–6 micro   10^–9 nano   10^–12 pico   10^–15 femto   10^–18 atto
10^–21 zepto   10^–24 yocto   10^–27 ronto   10^–30 quecto
Again, the last couple of terms are still under discussion for approval.
For huge prefixes, abbreviations are uppercase letters, except for kilo, which is abbreviated "k" (k, M, G, etc.). Uppercase "K" is sometimes used in computing to stand for 1024, or "binary kilo."
For tiny prefixes, abbreviations are lowercase letters, except for micro, which is abbreviated using the Greek "mu" or sometimes the English "u" (m, u, n, etc.).

2019/02/15 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
An alley in Tehran's historic/cultural district: 'Alley of Break-off and Reconciliation' Cartoon: How the Islamic Revolution has affected different classes of people in Iran Information about spring equinox and saal-tahveel, the changeover to the Persian calendar year 1398 (1) Iran-related images: [Left] Alley in Tehran's historic/cultural district named "Break-off and Reconciliation" [Center] How the Islamic Revolution has affected different classes of people in Iran. (Source: Iranwire.com) [Right] The changeover to the Persian calendar year 1398 (saal-tahveel or spring equinox) will occur on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, at 2:58:27 PM California time. The corresponding Iran time will be on Thursday, Farvardin 1, 1398, at 1:28:27 AM. UCLA's Norooz celebration will occur on March 10.
(2) The three richest Americans have as much wealth as the bottom 50%. Millionaire politicians want you to believe that we have but two choices: Accept the status quo or starve to death under socialism! [Photos]
(3) Five people are dead and 5 officers wounded in Aurora, Illinois, mass shooting. When will our politicians say enough is enough, instead of just sending thoughts and prayers?
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump's 2014 tweet: If only his supporters cared that he's doing things for which he criticized Obama!
- Resistance to Trump's declaration of national emergency over border-wall funding begins.
- Trump ally indicates that with a confirmed, fully-functioning AG in place, Mueller's days are numbered.
- Yesterday, on Valentine's Day, Amazon fell out of love with New York and withdrew its HQ2 plans.
- "What this country needs is a billionaire businessman ..." [No thanks; been there, done that!] [Cartoon]
- Three books, selected by New York Times, detail the lives of Middle Eastern women. [Cover images]
- Azeri poetry: Adorable girl recites a poem, in which I can make out the names of several Iranian cities.
- One of two poems by Nasim Basiri, published by North of Oxford. [Image]
- Persian music, with lyrics based on a Hafez poem and English subtitles. [Video]
- From life's users manual: "Before talking, connect tongue to the brain." ~ Anonymous
(5) Azi Jangravi, one of the "Women of Revolution Street," says she braved certain arrest for taking off her headscarf in public because she desired better living conditions for her daughter.
(6) Final thought for the day: National Enquirer has threatened Jeff Bezos with the release of embarrassing personal info. Does it also have dirt on Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham, who were once harsh critics of Trump, but are now his avid supporters?

2019/02/14 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Celebration of love: Happy Valentine's Day! Celebration of love: Capturing the sun in a heart Celebration of love: Happy Sepandarmazgan Festival! (1) Celebration of love: Happy Western Valentine's Day (2/14) and Iranian Sepandarmazgan Festival (2/18)!
(2) Remembering poetess extraordinaire Forough Farrokhzad on this anniversary of her tragic, premature death in 1967: Music video by Kourosh Yazdani, based on Farrokhzad's poem "Ba'dhaa" ("Later on").
(3) The world's best tech city is New York, not San Francisco: The just published Savills Index bases its city ranking on factors such as cost of living, cost of doing business, investment opportunities, real estate prices, and access to transit. [Source: Bloomberg]
(4) After successful trials in American football and basketball, "True View" technology comes to soccer: Intel has partnered with several top UK teams to bring the 3D replay technology, which allows viewing of a play from multiple angels, to the teams' home stadiums.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Britain will hit Iran with sanctions it has already prepared immediately after the completion of Brexit.
- Mother of imprisoned Iranian girl takes off her headscarf to protest the cruel treatment of her daughter.
- Eight environmental activists, labeled as spies by the Iranian regime, are denied legal representation.
- Yesterday's high winds in Goleta led to this downed tree and a broken water meter.
- Quote of the day: "It is easy to be brave from a safe distance." ~ Aesop
- A story for little kids: "If Sharks Were Men," by Berthold Brecht. [4-minute video]
- Quotation: "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." ~ John Dewey
- Persian Music: Rana Mansour's live performance of "Zan" ("Woman"). [3-minute video]
(6) Two interesting distinguished/keynote lectures coming up at UCSB later this winter: On Thursday, February 28, Dr. John Paul Strachen (HP Labs, Palo Alto) will give an ECE Distinguished Lecture entitled "A New Era for Exploring Power Efficient Hardware Accelerators: Devices, Architectures, and Lab Demonstrations" (10:00 AM, ESB 1001). Then, as part of the day-long CS Summit at UCen's Corwin Pavilion on March 13, Lise Getoor (CS Professor, UCSC), will be the keynote speaker, with the title "Responsible Data Science."
(7) Monica Witt charged with spying for Iran: The former counterintelligence officer for US Air Force Office of Special Investigations defected to Iran in 2013 and remains at large.
(8) Leaked records from Iran's judiciary indicate that 860 journalists, a quarter of them women, have been arrested/imprisoned/executed over the 40-year reign of terror.

2019/02/12 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Truth-challenged President's numbers, versus reality (crowd sizes in El Paso, Texas) Yesterday (February 11, 2019) was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Yesterday, February 11 (Bahman 22), Islamic Republic officials celebrated the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Truth-challenged President's numbers, versus reality. [Center] Yesterday (February 11, 2019) was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. [Right] Yesterday, February 11 (Bahman 22), Islamic Republic officials celebrated the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution. Ordinary Iranians, who have nothing to celebrate, had been warned against holding street protests.
(2) Humor: Trump wants to also build a wall around New Mexico, because we don't need any New Mexicans while we are trying to get rid of the old ones.
(3) Liar-in-Chief contradicted by stats the Republican Mayor of El Paso cited: El Paso has always been one of the safest large cities in the US. Its crime rate went down before the border barrier was erected in the mid-2000s, and it actually rose slightly after the barrier. Trump keeps claiming that El Paso was a very dangerous city before the barrier and one of the safest afterwards. [Violent-crimes chart]
(4) Finally, a science-friendly executive order: Trump administration's "AI Initiative" will support research and commercialization, as well as training, fellowships, and regulations to help workers whose jobs are affected.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Melania Trump worked as a model in 1996, when she was an undocumented alien.
- Genentech uses virtual reality to train eye surgeons: Over 150 have used VR training in the past year.
- Researchers study a radically new kind of neural network to overcome AI's big challenges.
- California Governor Newsom pulls National Guard from border, citing Trump's political theater. [LA Times]
- Many Americans are in for a shock, as they see their tax refunds shrink substantially. [Washington Post]
- Persian music: Young boy with magical voice performs a traditional Persian song. [5-minute video]
(6) Researchers break the mathematical code of a 3700-year-old Babylonian clay tablet dug up in southern Iraq nearly a century ago: It contains a highly-accurate trig table, which means that trigonometry was discovered by Babylonians, not the Greek, as previously thought.
(7) No one stopped the pedophile doctor working for US Indian Health Services, who was under suspicion for 21 years. [Source: Wall Street Journal]
(8) Tonight's film screening at UCSB's Pollock Theater: We were treated to "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," a screwball comedy about the Fab Four's fans and Beatlemania, as the third of five installments in the "Beatles Revolutions" series. The 1978 film was directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg. The screening of the story of non-stop screaming fans, who wanted to see the Beatles up close at their well-guarded hotel and get into the Ed Sullivan Theater where they were performing, was followed by a moderated discussion with actress Nancy Allen and screenwriter Bob Gale. [Images]

2019/02/10 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cherry blossoms in Tokyo, at sunrise Cover image of Ursula Le Guin's book 'Words Are My Matter' Maryam Zaree's 2019 film 'Born in Evin' tells the story of children like her who were born to mothers detained at Iran's Evin Prison (1) Images for today: [Left] Cherry blossoms in Tokyo, at sunrise. [Center] See my review of Ursula Le Guin's book, Words Are My Matter, below. [Right] Maryam Zaree's 2019 film "Born in Evin" tells the story of children like her who were born to mothers detained at Iran's Evin Prison. [Interview in Persian with Maryam Zaree]
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Why are men, even very powerful ones, so obsessed with taking and sending photos of their genitals?
- Pills equipped with tiny pop-up needles can inject medicine into a body from the inside.
- A brief tour of Venice, Italy: A city built on water. [1-minute video]
- Intelligence/memory tests: Chimps versus humans. [2-minute video]
- Persian music: Breathtaking video combined with a nice rendition of the oldie "Ghowghay-e Setaregan."
- Persian poetry: The late poet/lyricist Rahim Moeini Kermanshahi recites a poem of his in this 1998 video.
(3) Book review: Le Guin, Ursula K., Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books 2000-2016, unabridged audiobook on 11 CDs, read by Laural Merlington, Tantor Audio, 2018.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This collection of essays/reviews/talks is about contemporary fiction. LeGuin [1929-2018] was an American author of fiction (often depicting futuristic or imaginary alternative worlds), short stories, and children's books. Some of the items have been revised from their original versions for inclusion in this book.
The 70 or so pieces in this collection are quite diverse, so I will comment on a few overarching themes that caught my attention.
The first theme is the place of books in our hurried, attention-challenged society. People continually predict that books are doomed. Le Guin counters that book-readers have always been a minority and they will continue to enjoy books in printed or electronic form. Authors, too, whose primary motivations are communication and the pure joy of writing, will continue to churn out books. If there is an element to blame for the challenges facing books it is the publishing industry, which views books much like cereals or deodorants: Products to be sold at maximum possible profit.
The second theme concerns the place of fiction in our modern world. Writing fiction requires imagination: To take real-world experiences and to spin them into made-up characters, places, and events. Many people are uncomfortable with this kind of imagination, which they consider akin to lying, so, when they decide to write, they opt for autobiographies, that is, realistic views of their own lives. Readers are also prone to this misjudgment, as they try to deduce aspects of the fiction-writer's life from his/her story. I must admit that I have entertained similar thoughts when reading fiction (which I do on occasion, despite my preference for non-fiction). If the author writes about an extra-marital affair, for example, my mind immediately wonders about whether it is an act or inclination of the author herself. It wasn't until I listened to Le Guin's audiobook that I became aware of this tendency of mine.
The third theme is the haughty attitude that prevails against "genered" books, such as sci-fi, romance, and the dismissively-labeled "chick-lit," a world view that essentially divides books into literature and genres. According to Le Guin, all fiction is to be considered literature.
The fourth and final theme for this review is the role of gender in literature/publishing. The designation "women's lit" is really quite offensive and gives rise to many anomalies. Women's books are reviewed by both men and women, whereas the works of male authors are less frequently reviewed by women. Le Guin was known for using her voice in the literary world to challenge gender stereotypes and gender inequality. Patriarchy, empowerment, womanhood, and freedom ran through her writings.
There is something for everyone in this delightful collection. Writers, in particular, will enjoy Le Guin's insights about the craft of writing and about the artificial categorization of literature, including those based on gender.

2019/02/09 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Freedom House's 2019 report on the status of basic freedoms in countries around the world Two white men in blackface John Meacham and the cover image of his book, 'The Soul of America' (1) Democracy and freedom in America: [Left] Freedom House's 2019 report on the status of basic freedoms in countries around the world: USA is 53rd! [Center] We need to make America great (not "great again"): If there is a silver-lining to the cloud of Trump's presidency, it is the exposure of hidden racism in America. You can't begin to solve a complex problem if you are unaware of it, pretend it doesn't exist, or do not grasp its full breadth and depth. [Right] See my review of Jon Meacham's book, The Soul of America, below.
(2) A new acronym: INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) is a clearinghouse formally set up on January 31, 2019, to facilitate non-dollar-based trade between Iran and European countries without exposing the participants to retaliation by the US, while encouraging Iran to keep its commitments under JCPOA.
(3) Brett Kavanaugh shows his true colors in a Supreme-Court case: He voted to allow a highly restrictive abortion law stand, when previously, SCOTUS had struck down an identical law. John Roberts saved the day by siding with the liberal minority. So much for Senator Susan Collins' stated confidence, when she voted for BK, that he would honor precedents in abortion and other cases.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Today is the US National Pizza Day: Many pizza chains offer special deals to mark the occasion.
- Bill Maher's monologue on the state of politics in the US, the Republicans, and Howard Schultz's candidacy.
- Not a joke: A 27-year-old Indian man plans to sue his parents for giving birth to him without his consent.
- Fun with technology: A parade of giant robotic animals. [5-minute video]
(5) Book review: Meacham, Jon, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author and Fred Sanders, Random House Audio, 2018.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I got to know the Pulitzer-Prize-winning presidential historian Jon Meacham through his editorials in Newsweek and Time magazines, which I read regularly for several years. Among his books are acclaimed biographical volumes on Andrew Jackson (2008), Thomas Jefferson (2012), and George H. W. Bush (2015).
Meacham's eulogy for GHWB, captured in this 12-minute video, was typical of his thoughtful and poignant writing/speaking style and wonderful sense of humor.
By citing examples from America's past, Meacham aims to educate the reader that the fear and division we experience today are far from unprecedented and that, as a nation, we have survived even worse times. We have risen through hard times and managed to move forward by forging programs such as the Square Deal, the New Deal, and the Great Society.
The soul of America is democratic and progressive, but there are forces of authoritarianism and racism that rear their ugly heads from time to time. Darkness and intolerance in our society is often opposed by our leaders, some of whom were quite unlikely champions of freedom and civil rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are prominent examples of the role of our "better angels" (to borrow a term from Lincoln's first inaugural address) prevailing against all odds.
Meacham ends his wonderfully-written book with a call for active engagement to reject tribalism and to respect facts. The fight will not be easy, and it will be mired by setbacks, but we really have no other option than to oppose the forces of darkness.

2019/02/08 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fiftieth anniversary celebration of graduation from Tehran University's College of Engineering: Photo 2 Fiftieth anniversary celebration of graduation from Tehran University's College of Engineering: Photo 1 (1) Fiftieth-anniversary celebration: Ahead of the February 20 formal celebration gala in Tehran, a group of 1968 graduates of Tehran University's College of Engineering (my Fanni classmates) gathered on 2/06 at the College to take group photos, including one at a classroom that has been historically preserved as it was when we attended calculus lectures by Dr. Jamal Assaar. And, yes, our class was all-male, with the exception of one female electromechanics-major classmate who now lives in the US (there was another female contemporary in the chemical-engineering major).
(2) "A Structured Approach to Distributed Computation in Neural Networks": This was the title of yesterday's recruitment talk (the last one for the CS Neuroscience position) by E. Paxon Frady, a post-doc at UC Berkeley. Dr. Frady discussed how connectionist frameworks can be used to understand the information processing of neural networks. While our understanding how individual neurons work has been growing, there is currently a dearth of knowledge on how collections of neurons, distributed throughout the brain, collaborate and, thus, on how to program neural networks to perform computations of interest. [Photos]
(3) Dangers posed by eucalyptus globulus (blue gum) trees: Following numerous instances of giant eucalyptus trees shedding heavy limbs and occasionally being uprooted in strong winds, posing dangers to the housing community where I live and to UCSB's campus, and in view of dozens of e-mail exchanges about what to do with them, a neighbor posted this informative 2014 article about the species' structural failures. [Image]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Apple rewards 14-year-old Grant Thompson, who discovered FaceTime's eavesdropping bug (now patched).
- Another brilliant "A Closer Look" segment from comedian Seth Meyers, covering socialism and healthcare.
- An excellent overview (in Persian) of the status of Iranian women, as the Islamic Republic turns 40.
- 'Fauxtography' is now a fact of life: Say goodbye to real, unedited photos and videos!
(5) 'Reporters Without Borders' exposes Iran's arbitrary detention of journalists for fabricated charges of undermining national security, acting as foreign agents, and insulting Islamic tenets/leaders.
(6) Why would a well-to-do and already-famous journalist plagiarize? Surely, she knows it's unethical. And she knows, or should know, that detection of plagiarism is now easier than ever.
(7) Jeff Bezos preemptively publishes correspondence from AMI, including graphic descriptions of nude and other compromising photos they have of Bezos and his lover, to expose AMI's extortion attempt.
(8) Tonight, at UCSB's Multicultural Center Theater: Los-Angeles-based Lian Ensemble performed in two sets. The first set consisted of traditional/classical Persian music. This 3-minute sample is from the second set, featuring the ensemble's own compositions, based on classical Persian poems (Mowlavi/Rumi, in this case).

2019/02/07 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photo of Masih Alinejad and Mike Pompeo Title slide of Behrooz Parhami's February 20, 2019, talk in Goleta Rusty's Pizza in Goleta, CA (5934 Calle Real) (1) Miscellaneous images: [Left] Photo of women's-rights activist Masih Alinejad and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: See item (2) for details. [Center & Right] Technical talk in Goleta, CA: See item (3) for details.
(2) I was disappointed to see the photo on the left above and the associated news story: Masih Alinejad, Iranian women's-rights activist, met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who reassured her of Trump administration's support. So, I searched for Ms. Alinejad's explanation. According to a report by Radio Farda, after the 35-minute meeting, Alinejad explained, "I tried my utmost to be the voice of all those who put their trust in me," by highlighting three areas of concern. First, "Many Iranians want an end to the Islamic Republic. Opposition voices should be heard." Second, International community should focus on 40 years of human rights violations by the regime. Third, the Trump administration travel ban hurts human rights activists and students, not the regime. Still, I think Ms. Alinejad made a mistake in siding with Trump's war-mongering administration, which has aligned itself with some extremist enemies of Iran and seems to be eager to start a war with it.
(3) [In a couple of weeks] IEEE Central Coast Section event at Rusty's Pizza, 5934 Calle Real, Goleta, Wednesday, February 20, 2019, 6:00 PM (pizza, salad bar, and beverage, followed by presentation at 6:30).
Speaker: Dr. Behrooz Parhami, UCSB Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Title: Promoting Technological Literacy through Mathematical and Logical Puzzles
Abstract: Literacy and numeracy, introduced long ago to define the skill sets of a competent workforce are no longer adequate. Literacy is instilled and improved by telling stories that use more and more advanced vocabulary and grammar. The key tool in teaching and advancing numeracy is dealing with real-life problems, be they book-keeping and accounting tasks, analyzing geometric shapes and relationships, or deriving answers from (partially) supplied information. Teaching technical literacy (techeracy) requires a further shift away from story-telling and word problems toward logical reasoning, as reflected in the activity of solving puzzles. I will draw upon my experiences to convey how a diverse group of learners can be brought to understand the underpinnings of complex science and technology concepts such as integrated-circuit layout, recommendation systems, cryptography, and task scheduling.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The mother of all Freudian slips: Trump touts "the abolition of civil rights," crediting people of faith for it!
- Seven-vehicle crash on Highway 135 in Santa Maria leads to at least 2 deaths.
- Iranian Parliament's report acknowledges extreme poverty, encompassing more than half the population.
- Iranian officials withheld more than $1M earned by the country's national soccer team from the team.
(5) Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola apologize for marketing stunt involving napkins with space for name and phone number, and a message nudging plane passengers to hit on their 'plane crush.'
(6) US-Embassy hostage-taker nicknamed "Sister Mary," now Iran's VP for Women and Family Affairs, still does not see the light after 38 years: She asserts that Khomeini "spread democracy and stood against autocracy."

2019/02/06 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: The big bad wolf calls on the House of Representatives Photo of the backside of the Moon, along with Planet Earth, captured by a Chinese satellite State of the Union meme: Meteor and dinosaurs (1) Images of the day: [Left] The big bad wolf calls on the House of Representatives. [Center] Photo of the backside of the Moon, and Planet Earth, captured by a Chinese satellite. [Right] State of the Union meme.
(2) A big surprise for many people this tax season: Those who normally get a refund from IRS will either owe taxes or will see a smaller refund. The reason is that in the new tax code, withholdings were reduced to a greater extent than taxes. The lower withholdings created the illusion of a larger tax cut in our paychecks. So, we are essentially paying back part of the tax cut we thought we received. And things will get worse in future years. Billionaires and corporations will continue to enjoy their huge, permanent tax cuts, while the rest of us will see smaller and smaller benefits, especially as deductions disappear, healthcare costs rise, and many government services on which we rely are cut.
(3) California threatened by measles, from near and far: Washington State has reported 43 cases, a neighboring southern-Oregon county 1 case, and New York 200+ cases.
(4) Today's World Music Series noon concert: The 9-member Santa-Barbara-based Dixie Daddies and Mamas treated the audience to Dixieland music. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]
(5) Types of lying: I am puzzled by TV pundits constantly talking about the difference between lying under oath and just plain old lying, as if some kinds of lying are harmless or socially acceptable. When we raise children, do we tell them not to lie under oath but that regular lying is okay? Was Pinocchio blameless because he was never under oath? What does "the most successful president in the history of our country" tell his youngest son about lying? A good question for reporters, who asked him the easier question of whether he would let his son play football.
(6) On "digital humanities": Equating digital with new/modern and analog with old/passe is misguided. In the February 2019 issue of Communications of the ACM, Herbert Bruderer explains that the opposite of digital isn't analog and that using "digital" when we mean "electronic" is problematic. The first calculating device, the abacus, was digital, and numerous digital gadgets have been used through the ages. The predecessors of e-books, that is, paper books, cannot be considered analog books. So, the term "digital humanities" is misguided. Humanities are neither analog nor digital. A better term would be "computer-aided/assisted humanities."
(7) Decisions, decisions! UCLA's Persian lecture on Iran (Sunday, February 24, 2019, 4:00 PM, 121 Dodd Hall), entitled "From Instanbul to Chicago: Iranian Diaspora Across Time and Space" (by Fariba Zarinebaf), coincides with the Academy Awards ceremony from Hollywood's Dolby Theater, beginning at 5:00 PM on ABC. I am inclined to go to the lecture, but I remember, from a lecture event in the past, that attendance suffers when there are such time conflicts.

2019/02/05 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Chinese (lunar) new year and welcome to the year of the pig! Double-standard in wardrobe at Super Bowl halftime show: Adam Levine, 2019 Double-standard in wardrobe at Super Bowl halftime show: Janet Jackson, 2004 (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Happy Chinese New Year to everyone, and welcome to the year of the pig! [Center & Right] Double-standard in reacting to Adam Levine and Janet Jackson: Shirtless performance at Sunday's Super Bowl 2019 halftime show vs. fines levied for "wardrobe malfunction" in 2004.
(2) Adam Khan, inventor and manufacturer of a type of hard glass for cell phones, assisted FBI by wearing surveillance devices during meeting with Huawei reps at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
(3) World Freedom Report (by Freedom House) rebukes Trump: "No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms and principle."
(4) State of the Union Address: Fewer Democrats were no-shows at this year's SOTU Address, because they wanted to actively resist Trump, with record number of women in Congress (wearing white) and guests from immigrant and other slighted groups. Trump's speech in the US House was fake news; the real SOTU address will be transmitted in tweet-size chunks over the next few days!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump administration is planning delay tactics ahead of expected House request for Trump's tax records.
- Melting glaciers reveal landscapes and life forms that had been hidden from us for at least 40,000 years.
- Daring people and beautiful vistas: A wonderful combination! [2-minute video]
- The constant job growth rate over the period 2011-2018, as variously described by Donald Trump. [Chart]
- Colorado by drone: Breathtaking vistas (one in a series of amazing "by drone" travel videos on Vimeo).
- Not a new warning: Never leave your car engine running when you step away from the driver's seat.
(6) Book review: Gore, Al, Truth to Power (An Inconvenient Sequel), unabridged audiobook on 4 CDs, read by the author and several others, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image of Al Gore's book 'Truth to Power (An Inconvenient Sequel)' This book, already made into a 2017 movie, paints a grim picture of domestic and international politics in the realm of global warming. While the Paris Climate-Change Accord can be viewed as a positive turn in the book's plot, the overall picture is quite negative. The election of Donald Trump derailed the slow but steady progress that was being made in curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, but now, no one, including Gore himself seems to know what to do, other than sound the alarm.
Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (both the book and the movie) did make a dent in shaping the public's perception of the seriousness of climate change and of the dangers that lie ahead if we choose not to act. The sequel comes at an even more critical time in our Earth's history, when several thresholds have already been crossed. But the book and film seem to have had fairly limited impact on public discourse in the US.
Anti-climate-change forces have been rather successful in sowing doubts about the reality of the threat and human-beings' role in its amplification, and they have been peddling a false narrative on the long-term economic harm of regulations and action plans. Like many other social and economic issues, climate-change has fallen prey to shortsighted views of populist leaders and the resulting political divide in society.
Reconciling a serious threat, that is decades out, with immediate concerns about jobs, wages, education, and healthcare, takes foresight and leadership, that, as I write this review, do not exist here in the United States. Technology seems to hold the only hope for stopping the worsening conditions and, eventually, reversing the harm already done.
Gore does an excellent job of presenting pertinent facts and the challenges posed by less-developed countries viewing pollution and global warming as First-World problems. India, for example, has argued that it has the same right as the US to cheap, oil-spurred industrialization. Any global solution must cut countries that are late-comers to industrial growth some slack, and that is where the current US administration, with its disdain for sacrifice and wealth-sharing, stands in the way.
All educated citizens of the world must read this book and/or see the movie based on it. Activism is important to keep the flame going, even if the prospects for immediate impact are dim. The book contains an extensive list of resources to help those who are inclined to act, as well as suggestions on how each individual might help.

2019/02/04 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Posthumous performances: Increasingly, entertainment contracts include language covering who controls and profits from virtual/holographic performances after the performer's death A success story in promoting diversity in computer science: Carnegie Mellon University's efforts and results discussed Quote about the US president being a fair target of criticism (1) Noteworthy memes/headlines: [Left] Posthumous performances: Increasingly, entertainment contracts include language covering who controls and profits from virtual/holographic performances after the performer's death (credit: Time magazine). [Center] A success story in promoting diversity in computer science: Efforts made and results achieved by Carnegie Mellon University are discussed in an article in the February 2019 issue of Communications of the ACM. [Right] This is exactly what ails us now: "The powers of the president will not be questioned." ~ Stephen Miller, Senior Policy Advisor to Donald Trump
(2) Well, I don't know if we needed yet another anti-Trump book, but here it is, a psycho-cultural critique from the author of Reality Hunger, David Shields: Nobody Hates Trump More than Trump: An Intervention [Cover]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- New England Patriots won 13-3 in the Super Bowl over LA Rams; the 3-3 score after 3+ quarters was odd!
- In a speech, Kim Jong Un describes the Trump administration as a racist billionaires' club.
- Trump's claim of having a very good memory debunked in a video compilation of memory fails.
- Small plane disintegrates, crashes into single-family home in SoCal, killing the pilot and 4 residents.
- How Asghar Farhadi, arguably Iran's best director, makes art of moral ambiguity (NYT).
- The estate of the late comedian Gary Shandling donates $15.2 million to UCLA's Medical School.
Book introductions: Three interesting titles from Princeton University Press (4) Book introductions: Three interesting titles from Princeton University Press.
- Kernighan, Brian W., Millions, Billions, Zillions: Defending Yourself in the World of Too Many Numbers
- Steiglitz, Ken, The Discrete Charm of the Machine: Why the World Became Digital
- McCormick, John, What Can Be Computed? A Practical Guide to the Theory of Computation
(5) The silver lining: Scientists and engineers took advantage of the deep freeze in the US Midwest to observe how robots function in such extreme weather conditions.
(6) Unusually strong winds led to many downed trees and broken tree limbs on the UCSB Campus, in my housing complex, and around Goleta yesterday. Clean-up is in progress, as are damage assessments and discussions about mitigating the hazards in future.
(7) Earl Maize (JPL) describes "Cassini, Saturn's Little Big Explorer" in this 20-minute TED talk. He will be the banquet speaker for South Coast's National Engineers Week event at Cal State University Channel Islands' Grand Salon on Friday 2/22. I am considering attending the event.

2019/02/03 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Humor: Kabob-e barg, after the sharp rise of meat prices in Iran Calligraphic rendition of a verse by Mowlavi (Rumi), by artist Javad Youssefi This bust of the late Iranian wrestler Gholamreza Takhti is on display in the US (1) Miscellaneous images: [Left] Kabob-e barg, after the sharp rise of meat prices in Iran. (For Persian non-speakers, the meme plays on the fact that "leaf" and a type of beef kabob share the same Persian word.) [Center] Calligraphic rendition of a Mowlavi (Rumi) verse, by Javad Youssefi. (This video contains more of his creations). [Right] This bust of the late Iranian wrestler Gholamreza Takhti honors his gesture of competing with one arm behind his back, when he noticed that his American opponent couldn't use an injured arm.
(2) The 2018 Turing Lecture by John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson, entitled "A New Golden Age of Computer Architecture," has been published, along with a link to the full lecture video, in the February 2019 issue of Communications of the ACM.
(3) Quote of the day: "If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact—not to be solved, but to be coped with over time." ~ Shimon Peres [1923-2016], Israeli President
(4) Long view of life: "A painting that looks flawless from a distance may appear as a collection of color patches up close. Perhaps you should take a long view of life to avoid seeing just spots." ~ Zoya Pirzad, We'll Get Used to It [My translation from Persian]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Way to start Black History Month: Photo of Virginia's Democratic governor from his med-school yearbook.
- Golshifteh Farahani plays a Kurdish fighter battling ISIS in the film "Girls of the Sun." [Persian interview]
- Persian Music: Innovative lip-synching. [1-minute video]
- WW II history: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin meet with each other and with Iran's Shah in Tehran. [Video]
(6) Aiming for defense funding: Today, I saw a TV ad from Boeing, touting its space technology and saying "the future of defense is here." It seems aerospace companies are positioning themselves to get a bigger piece of the "Space Force" pie.
(7) Another egotist builds a vanity tower: The 550-meter-tall Burj Jumeira in Dubai will display Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's thumb-print at its base.
(8) In its issue of February 4-11, 2019, Time magazine offers a special section on what to expect in the 2020s and another one on the socioeconomic changes in the 2030s.
(9) Trouble ahead for 2020: A new poll shows that 54% of Democrats feel party positions should be more moderate. About the same number think having a third party is good for the country. A third-party candidate won't draw many votes from Republicans, 87% of whom support Trump.

2019/02/02 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Flamboyant old man has a change of wardrobe! Iranian asylum seeker, journalist Behrouz Boochani, who wrote a book in Manus Island's offshore refugee detention camp, wins two of Australia's richest literary prizes Cartoon: The ideal Democratic candidate (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Roger Stone's change of wardrobe! [Center] Iranian asylum seeker, journalist Behrouz Boochani, who wrote a book in Manus Island's offshore refugee detention camp, wins two of Australia's richest literary prizes. [Right] The ideal candidate: "They want Biden's working-class appeal, Sanders's populist fervor, Beto's youthful charisma, Warren's fierce progressivism, Klobuchar's calm moderation, Harris's toughness, Brown's everyman image, Booker's media savvy, Gillibrand's feminist credentials, ..."
(2) Trump and the Republican Party seem headed for a divorce: Perhaps he is in search of a third party (like a third wife), after cheating on the first two (he was once a Democrat).
(3) Four days of expected rain (forecast), at times quite heavy, has led to evacuation orders for parts of Montecito, the area that was devastated by Thomas Fire and mud/debris flows last year. This downpour, captured around 7:50 AM at my home in Goleta, is good news for the drought in our area, but not so for the homeless or residents fearing another devastating mud/debris flow. By mid-afternoon, the sun had returned to Goleta, but US 101 is closed in both directions due to flooding and debris, and more rain is on the way over the next few days. Meanwhile, in Malibu, California, a street turns into a raging river.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Virginia's Democratic Governor urged to resign over revealed racist photo in his med-school yearbook.
- Aljazeera reports from Tehran on Islamic Republic's 40th-anniversary celebrations amid economic woes.
- America once loved billionaires: The likes of Donald Trump made it fall out of love with them.
- Iranian music and beautiful dance: No info about the performers. [3-minute video]
- A piece of space junk: A trash-bag-like object is circling the earth at a distance greater than the Moon's.
- Negar Ag's contribution to the site "Old Photos of Iran": Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Shiraz, 1974.
- A millennial made millions buying items off the clearance aisles of Walmart and reselling them on Amazon.
(5) Trump's love-hate relationship with the press: He grants an 85-minute interview to the "failing," "fake-news," and "enemy-of-the-people" New York Times, But it won't be long before he starts attacking it again.
(6) Recognizable speech generated from brain waves: The new Columbia University research results, published in Scientific Advances, raises hopes of being able to give voice to those without.
(7) Fiftieth-Anniversary celebration: Gathering in Tehran to honor the 1968 graduates of Tehran University's College of Engineering ("Daaneshkadeh-ye Fanni") will occur on Wednesday, February 20, 2019. [Invitation]
(8) Fake news super-sharers: A Northeastern University study has found that just 16 Twitter users tweeted out nearly 80% of the misinformation posing as news in 2016, while 99% of users spread virtually no fake information. Among people categorized as left-leaning and centrists, fewer than 5% shared any fake information, while 11% of accounts belonging to those described as right-leaning shared misinformation made to look like legitimate news.

2019/02/01 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Face made up of many faces Iran appears as #45 on 'New York Times' list of 52 travel destinations for 2019 Floating trash patch in the Pacific which is twice the size of Texas (1) Miscellaneous images: [Left] Face made up of many faces. [Center] Iran appears as #45 on New York Times' list of 52 travel destinations for 2019 (extra image). [Right] Floating trash: An estimated 1.2-2.4 million tons of plastic enters the oceans each year from rivers, accumulating in 5 different patches in the world's oceans. The largest of these, located between Hawaii and California, has an area twice the size of Texas or three times that of France (Photo credit: Time magazine, issue of February 4-11, 2019).
(2) On my 72nd birthday, as I do each year, I looked up the properties of the number 72. Here are the results.
Has 12 divisors, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 72; Is half a gross, or six dozen; Is the product of 2^3 and 3^2; Is a master number, in esoteric numerology; Is the sum of four consecutive primes, 13 + 17 + 19 + 23; Is the sum of six consecutive primes, 5 + 7 + 11 + 13 + 17 + 19; Is the smallest number whose 5th power is the sum of five smaller 5th powers, 19^5 + 43^5 + 46^5 + 47^5 + 67^5; Is the measure of each exterior angle of a regular pentagon, in degrees; Is generally considered room temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit; Is the point size that makes characters 1 inch tall (a point is 1/72 of an inch); Is the number of strings (24 triple strings) on the Persian classical instrument santur; Is the number of virgins promised to martyrs in heaven, according to Islam; When appearing at the end of a year's number, makes it a leap year; When divided by the annual rate of return yields the number of years it takes for an investment to double ("The rule of 72").
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- More than 2 dozen deaths in 8 states blamed on the cold spell resulting from the polar vortex.
- Blackouts in the US Midwest add to the challenges posed by record-low temperatures.
- Trump not only lies himself but makes false statements on behalf of others!
- Good news on the women's rights front: Lebanon gets its first female Interior Minister. [Persian report]
- A poisonous variety of mushroom is spreading in North America's urban areas, putting children at risk.
- In a paper published in Nature Astronomy, scientists suggest that the universe's dark energy is growing.
- A fleet of robotic valets will park cars at London's Gatwick Airport.
- Amazon will fund many computer science classes at NY-area high schools ahead of its HQ2 placement.
(4) Multislacking: A relatively new word that means having multiple windows open on your screen to create the appearance of working, while actually slacking. [From an audio course entitled "The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins," which I am pursuing now.]
(5) Direct Relief International's new $40 million headquarters has been named after former UCSB Professor and nanotechnology pioneer Dr. Virgil Elings, who donated $5.1 million to complete its funding. Elings has donated significantly in Southern California and elsewhere, including to UCSB, Dos Pueblos High School, and other institutions. Direct Relief International is one of the most effective charities and does a remarkable job of distributing medicine and other supplies after natural disasters. I highly recommend donating to it.

2019/01/30 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Roger Stone is all smiles as he is arrested World Music Series: Dannsair performed Irish (dance) music in today's noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl Minnesota man wears shorts during the state's deepest freeze in decades, which can lead to frostbite in minutes (1) Images of the day: [Left] Rich people smile and have fun when they get arrested, while poor people become gloomy and nervous. [Center] World Music Series: Dannsair performed Irish (dance) music in today's noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl (see item 2 below for details). [Right] Unprecedented cold spell: Chicago city authorities lit fires under elevated train tracks to prevent damage to the rails. Meanwhile, this Minnesota man wears shorts during the state's deepest freeze in decades, which can cause frostbite in minutes.
(2) Noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: Dannsair, a Santa Barbara-based band boasting several UCSB music graduates, performed wonderful Irish music, with the band leader providing colorful commentary. I had taken along my home-made egg-salad with crackers for lunch; the rose in this photo was given to me as I walked by the library on my way to the concert venue, for reasons unknown. Sample music follows. [Video 1] [Video 2, country-style film music] [Video 3, dance tune from "Titanic"] [Video 4, a jig tune] [Video 5; stayed a few minutes longer to record this one, and, as a result, had to run to make it to my 1:00 PM office hour!]
(3) Smear campaign against Robert Mueller and his investigation: Russians are using materials provided by Mueller's team to Concord Management, the indicted Russian company, to discredit the investigation into Moscow's election interference. Some of the documents used have been altered.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump celebrates a flat market over the past year, as DJIA returns to where it was on January 4, 2018.
- Seth Meyers' "A Closer Look": Informative and funny. Are we in for a wag-the-dog war in Venezuela?
- DNA testing may reveal the identities of anonymous sperm donors, creating problems at both ends.
- Fun with art: Mona Lisa brought to life by artist James Dean Wilson. [1-minute video]
- Wonderful street art, combining wall paintings with existing plants. [1-minute video]
- Persian music: A 1-minute video clip from Molook Zarrabi, a pioneering woman singer in Iran.
(5) The Robomart start-up in Santa Clara, CA, will soon dispatch "grocery stores on wheels" in some Greater-Boston neighborhoods. Customers summon the vehicles, open their sliding doors with a phone app, and are automatically charged as they remove the RFID-tagged items. [Photo]
(6) Sarah Huckabee Sanders: God wanted Trump to become president. Me: Perhaps Robert Mueller should include God in his Russia probe!
(7) Final thought for the day: "A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special." ~ Nelson Mandela

2019/01/29 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
This adorable little girl is disappointed at Iran losing to Japan 0-3 in soccer's Asian Cup semifinals Norway endeavors to build the world's first floating tunnel Coldest wind-chills from the polar vortex (weather map) (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] This adorable little girl is disappointed at Iran losing to Japan 0-3 in soccer's Asian Cup semifinals. [Center] Norway endeavors to build the world's first floating tunnel: Less visual clutter than a bridge, cheaper than a regular tunnel. [Right] Coldest wind-chills from the polar vortex: My thoughts are with Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri friends. Stay safe!
(2) Quote of the day: "Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing." ~ Author/poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
(3) Water returns to Zayandeh Rood: People of Isfahan celebrate in this undated video, as the river, whose name means "Life-Giving," sees water after a long drought.
(4) You can be freezing in the US Midwest today, while we experience one of the hottest years on record globally: Local weather fluctuations and long-term global climate trends are different things. Someone please show this video to Trump, although he will likely dismiss it as fake news.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Intelligence chiefs disagree with Trump on threats from Iran and North Korea and on the demise of ISIS.
- John Bolton lets the cat out of the bag by displaying his notepad, intentionally or absent-mindedly.
- This rich old white dude (Senator Graham) wants to manufacture another financial crisis over wall funding!
- Pink Martini: If you want hours of easy-listening jazz/Latin music, this YouTube channel is for you.
(6) A glitch in Apple's group FaceTime allows eavesdropping on conversations and access to your microphone and camera, before you join and even if you don't. Apple has disabled the feature until a fix is put in.
(7) Colonel Larry Wilkerson speaks up against a war with Iran: As a young man, he went to Vietnam to fight a war "built on lies." As an older man, he presided as Chief of Staff at the US State Department, where he helped justify another war built on lies, the Iraq war, which history will judge as a catastrophic geopolitical decision. Wilkerson says he wishes he had resigned at the time. Now, he sees the beginnings of another war built on lies and warns us that "we have seen this picture before." The new lies are promoted by the same people who helped start the Iraq war. [5-minute video]
Images about the documentary 'The Point of No Return' about the first fully solar-powered flight around the world (8) "Point of No Return": This was the title of a 2018 feature film screened at UCSB's Pollock Theater tonight. The film documents the story of the first fully solar-powered flight around the world. The challenging 26,000-mile journey took 505 days, at an average speed of about 45 MPH. The aircraft, with 17,000 solar cells and a wingspan of 235 ft, weighed only 2.4 tons. The control room filled with support staff looked very much like that of a space mission. The screening was followed by a moderated discussion with the film's co-directors, Noel Dockstader and Quinn Kanaly. [Images]

2019/01/28 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Screen shot from BBC Persian's 'Pargar' program on Iranian women's agency (1) Women's agency in Iran: BBC Persian's "Pargar" program features a 52-minute debate between Prof. Nayereh Tohidi (someone who grew up in a traditional family but rose to high educational attainment and was a participant in the Revolution) and Ms. Soudeh Rad (a women's-rights activist who was born after the Revolution and has directly experienced only Iran's Islamic government and its misogynistic laws).
The debate's topic is whether the remarkable activism of Iranian women is at least in part due to the Islamic Revolution or occurs in spite of it. This is an important discussion that should be continued.
The differences in viewpoints between the two guests are subtle, as both are devout feminists (and end up endorsing each other's views on many points), but I find myself in greater agreement with Ms. Rad that the restrictions imposed on women by Iran's Islamic rulers and their patriarchal supporters have motivated women to act but have also served to channel their activism into relatively safer secondary disobedience (not donning "proper" hijab, wearing colorful clothes, and pursuit of beauty, including opting for cosmetic surgery), rather than a true pursuit of equality.
As Dr. Tohidi states, in sociopolitical domains, it is difficult to answer hypothetical questions such as where Iranian women would be today, that is, more or less empowered, had the Islamic Revolution not occurred, but my gut feeling tells me that they would be better off than they are today. It is indeed unclear whether Iranian women's greater presence at institutions of higher learning or as book authors, to cite just two examples, would have been as extensive in the absence of the Islamic Revolution.
(2) Returning from class just before noon, I encountered a "Take a Nap" sign from UCSB Health & Wellness, along with a table, presumably offering tips on taking a nap. Alas, I had to be at my office hour at noon!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The beginning of an announcement e-mail from NSF about resumption of scientific activities.
- Thank you anti-vaxxers for bringing measles back to the US. Making America great again!
- Upcoming winter and spring events in UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran. [Table]
- Upcoming events at UCLA sponsored by Pourdavoud Center for the Study of the Iranian World. [Table]
- Humor: Iranian man's secret to catching fish! [1-minute video]
- Persian music: Bahar Choir honors Iranian opera singer Pari Zangeneh, 79, in this touching tribute.
- "It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the grain of sand in your shoe." ~ Robert W. Service
(4) Bias as a human defense mechanism against information overload: The remarkable human brain can store several terabytes of information, according to Robert Birge of Syracuse University, yet this is only one-millionth of the information produced in the world each day, per IBM estimates. So, we have to be extremely selective about the information we choose to remember. In his 1970 book, Future Shock, Alvin Tofler hypothesized that one way of dealing with information overload is to simplify the world in ways that confirm our biases, shedding nuances and key details in the process. As a result, rather than serving to bring us together, more information tends to push us into the familiar confines of our biases.
Also relevant to the notions above is a view of judgment as lazy thinking (from an October 2018 Facebook post of mine). When you see something new, your brain goes into overdrive until you identify it and assign a noun to it ("Oh, that's a fork"); you then relax and stop thinking. The same is true with regard to people ("Oh, that's a Latino/feminist/Republican"). Stoppage of thinking at this point makes you miss all the nuances. [Video]
(5) Final thought for the day: "Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it." ~ Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

2019/01/27 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of Time magazine, issue of January 28, 2019 (1) How to fix social media before it's too late: Early tech investor Roger McNamee opines on democracy, privacy, controlling your data, regulation, making it human, addiction, and protecting children. A must-read for anyone who cares and worries about where social media are taking us.
In the same issue of Time magazine:
- Tim Cook urges taking action on privacy.
- Maria Ressa expresses optimism that FB can fulfill its original promise.
- Laurie Segall demarcates some of the scary aspects of technology.
- Eli Pariser vouches for restoring dignity to technology.
- Donald Graham indicates that he'd bet on FB's efforts to fix its mistakes.
(2) Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day: Let's remember the atrocities and renew our "never again" pledge! This UN-designated day commemorates the genocide that led to the death of 6 million Jews, 1 million Gypsies, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.
(3) If everyone thinks outside the box, things in the box won't get done!
(4) History of space-flight computers: In the article "First-Hand Hacking Apollo's Guidance Computer," Walt Whipple gives a first-person account of how a hack of a relatively primitive computer to allow memory and I/O channel dumps facilitated system diagnostics. [Related link: "Human Space Travel Primary Sources"]
(5) "US Sanctions: Unfulfilled Expectations and Challenges Facing the Iranian Economy" (Slides/Charts): This was the title of today's Persian lecture at UCLA's Dodd Hall, Room 121, which will repeat tomorrow in English at Kaplan Hall, Room 365, as part of the Iranian Studies Outreach Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran. The speaker, Dr. Hashem Pesaran, is a Distinguished Chair Professor of Economics at USC and Emeritus Professor of Economics at Trinity College, Cambridge. Professor Pesaran has earned numerous recognitions, including honorary degrees, in the course of his career.
Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, Professor of Gender and Women Studies at Cal State Northridge and Coordinator of UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series, introduced the speaker and moderated the discussion that followed the lecture.
Dr. Pesaran began with what he called the good news, Iran's economic potential in theory, before dealing with the bad news of why the potential is not realized in practice. In the 40 years since the Islamic Revolution, a number of hardships (wars and sanctions) and internal mismanagement have impacted the country's economy. Iran's $425-billion economy is the second largest in the region, after Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, Iran possesses the world's largest natural-gas reserves, a young population (60% under 30), a citizenry that is 15% university-educated, and a vast cultural heritage (22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites).
There is now enough data from Iran's economy (18 years prior to the Islamic Revolution, that is, 1960-1978, and 40 years after) to carry out analyses and issue verdicts about what has caused the dysfunction. Post-Revolution, Iran has had a 2.5% annual growth, compared with 3.1% for Middle East and North Africa as a whole. Iran's GDP growth nearly matches its population growth, implying that things remain the same on a per-capita basis. Inflation has averaged 17%, falling to 10% after JCPOA but rising again with the new sanctions. Averages, of course, do not tell the entire story, as they do not reflect volatilities and fluctuations that create economic uncertainty.
The unemployment rate has averaged 12%, but it is much higher for the youth and women (30-40%). Economic growth fell significantly after the Revolution. This drop and the aforementioned volatility are evident in the chart in one of the slides, where the red line reflects the world average. Another slide shows the currency exchange rate, where blue signifies the official rate and red denotes the free-market rate. This duality of exchange rate (there are actually more than two rates) as well as subsidizing essential products is one of the sources of rampant corruption, as people and organizations take advantage of their access to more favorable rates to make ilicit profits. Yet another slide shows the value-drop of the Iranian rial during the terms of various recent Iranian presidents (Rafsanjani, factor of 5.8; Khatami, 4.9; Ahmadinejad, 3.7; Rouhani, 3.4).
Dr. Pesaran then discussed the effects of cumulative inflation, which although not a direct cause of currency devaluation, is related to it. The difference between average inflation in Iran (17%) and the US (3%) causes significant cumulative inflation, which sometimes leads the rise of the dollar and sometimes trails it, but the two indicators rise pretty much in tandem (slide, with blue line showing the price of dollar and red line representing cumulative inflation). For comparison, the corresponding figures for other countries in the region and a couple of oil-producing countries outside the region (included to show that possessing oil isn't necessarily the curse) are shown on one of the slides.
Dr. Pesaran pointed to economic mismanagement as the primary cause of Iran's economic woes. Part of this mismanagement pertains to populist policies that don't make economic sense, lack of stable policies with regard to the private sector, the existence of a huge semi-private sector, outdated banking and financial systems, and, as pointed out earlier, having multiple exchange rates that lead to inflation and corruption.
The effects of sanctions are highlighted on one of the slides, where economic growths during the low-impact sanctions of 1990-2005 and high-impact sanctions of 2006-2015 are compared. Using the average of some countries forming our comparison group, one can deduce that about 2.5% of the growth dip can be attributed to world economy and the rest is damage resulting from sanctions.
Another chart in the slides compares Iran's domestic oil use with production. Still another slide, depicting Iran's poverty map, shows that as low as the economic growth has been, its benefits have gone predominantly to the rich, which has led to a worsening of poverty in the country. Interestingly, Iran has always enjoyed substantial foreign currency reserves, which could have been used for controlling the exchange rate, but weren't.
Dr. Pesaran then showed portions of President Trump's Executive Order (see two of the slides) regarding Iran sanctions and urged everyone to examine it carefully. Explicitly included in the Order are concerns about Iran's missiles program and its automotive industries which, for some reason, are seen as threatening to the US.
To summarize, sanctions have had significant direct and indirect effects on the Iranian economy. However, the major share of the blame for Iran's economic woes goes to inept economic policies, including the tendency to pursue isolationism. Today's world does not allow isolationist economies to prosper. Even China, which was isolated for many decades, can no longer ignore the global economy and return to isolationism.
The Iranian government has recognized the importance of technology to the country's economy, which has led to less control over Internet access and emergence of higher-quality communication services. DigiKala, Iran's version of Amazon, has had a significant impact on making prices transparent, thus empowering consumers to find better deals, which were unavailable with secret, arbitrary prices of yore. This is a trend that cannot be reversed and is a positive omen overall.
[Note: The version of this report posted on Facebook also has a Persian version at the end.]

2019/01/26 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Image of robotic hand, playing chess Four-layer pudding-jello dessert for today's family gathering Misogynists at work: Photo of a friend, PhotoShopped by the staff of an Iranian scientific journal where her paper was published, to make her long, flowing hair and smile disappear (1) Random images: [Left] Google's AlphaZero, which trained itself and beat the human-trained Go champion AlphaGo program, now also excels at Chess and Shogi: The next frontier is for it to tackle more challenging games that entail imperfect information (Go and Chess are examples of games that are played with perfect information). [Center] Dessert for today's family gathering: Layers from the bottom are sandwich cookies (not visible), sugar-free lemon pudding, sugar-free orange jello, and fruit toppings. [Right] Misogynists at work: A friend posted this photo of her, PhotoShopped by the staff of an Iranian scientific journal where her paper was published, to make her long, flowing hair and smile disappear. I commented thus: "They are so stuck in the Middle Ages that it's laughable. The funny thing is that the person enforcing these ridiculous laws may not even believe in them himself; he is just following the mob. They are also afraid of smiling people. I remember the anti-smile question: 'Nishet chera baazeh?' So sad!"
(2) This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill: The spill left an indelible mark on the idyllic South-Coast community and helped spur the national environmental movement, including the establishment of Earth Day to raise awareness. [Images from Santa Barbara Independent]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- FBI Director Wray slams the government shutdown which has affected all his underlings in serious ways.
- There is an $18,000 gender pay gap among scientists, according to the latest salary-data analysis.
- What is the hardest part of studying computer science? Getting into classes you need to graduate.
- Bodies-on-a-chip: Proxies for living beings may alleviate the need for lab animals, help cure diseases.
- What do Mars astronauts and the elderly have in common? Loneliness, osteoporosis, muscle-mass loss.
- George Mason University's student meal plans now include an option for food delivery by a fleet of robots.
- Dueling instruments: Guitarist mimics the rhythms and sounds of tonbak (goblet drum). [3-minute video]
- Persian music: LA-based Lian Ensemble is coming to UCSB on Friday, February 9. [10-minute video]
(4) The most-productive plane factory: Boeing 737 assembly line, where 42 planes roll off per month, each one taking 9 days from start to finish (which means more than a dozen planes are being worked on at once).
(5) The effect of a terminal master's degree: According to Computing Research Association, those with a terminal master's degree prior to earning a PhD in computing are twice as likely to have first-author journal publications than those without a terminal master's degree.
(6) Trump signs temporary end to government shutdown: He went from deal-man to tariff-man. Now, his nickname has changed to cave-man, because he caved. Some consider this nickname an insult to cavemen.

2019/01/25 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Screening of 'Let It Be' at UCSB's Pollock Theater on January 24, 2019: Image 1 Screening of 'Let It Be' at UCSB's Pollock Theater on January 24, 2019: Image 2 Screening of 'Let It Be' at UCSB's Pollock Theater on January 24, 2019: Image 3 (1) "Beatles Revolutions" film series: The second of five Beatles-related films, "Let It Be," was screened at UCSB's Pollock Theater last night. The packed house was also treated to a discussion (moderated by UCSB's David Novak) about the film with Santa-Barbara-native musician and producer Alan Parsons, of the "Alan Parsons Project" fame, who was a 20-year-old sound person at the Beatles January 29, 1969, roof-top concert prominently featured in the documentary film. The film, intended to showcase the band's creative process, ended up documenting the Fab Four's final days together, as the film was released a month after the Beatles disbanded. Tensions among Paul, John, George, and Ringo are evident as they rehearse and perform at the iconic concert atop London's Apple Studio.
(2) Bus Line 28 between UCSB campus and Camino Real Marketplace: This afternoon, I rode a brand-new tram/train-like double-length bus. Line-28 rides are free to UCSB faculty/staff/students, providing a convenient way of getting to shopping and alternative dining joints. [Photos of the inside and outside of the bus]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Skilled fed workers consider private-sector careers: So, when the shutdown ends, its effects will linger.
- Trump friend and confidant Roger Stone has been indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
- Comedy news: Seth Meyers takes a closer look at government shutdown and official reactions.
- Cartoon of the day: US government shutdown. [Uncle Sam needs winding up!]
- The penny that sold for $204,000: The 1943 penny had been minted in bronze instead of zinc-coated steel.
- Amazon's cooler-box-size delivery robot rolls along sidewalks to deliver packages in north Seattle.
- Give/accept hugs when you can: They're good for your health; even animals need them! [2-minute video]
- Heavenly Iranian food, served at a popular restaurant in Tehran's Bazaar. [1-minute video]
- Regional folk music of Iran: A wonderful performance of "Mah Pishanoo." [3-minute video]
- Magic act involving cigarettes and paper napkins: This act is hard to watch, but impressive nonetheless.
(4) Violinist Leonidas Kavakos in concert at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight: Kavakos was superb throughout, playing some very challenging pieces, particularly right after the intermission and at the very end (Program). Enrico Pace, the pianist who accompanied Kavakos was every bit as good. A treat in every way!
Here is an 11-minute sample of the violin maestro's work on YouTube.
[In the margins: Watching the performance tonight, it occurred to me that if there is one job in the world that can be easily removed/automated it is that of the page-turner for a pianist. The page turner must be musically savvy to know when to turn the page, making her (yes, it's usually a woman) the least-efficiently utilized talent on any stage. True, the job can be viewed as a form of apprenticeship, but still ...]

2019/01/24 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cutlet sandwich with mint: What I took along to eat during yesterday's noon music concert A clear view of the Channel Islands in Goleta yesterday, 2019/01/23 Cartoon: Iranian government's budget allocation to different constituents, graphically illustrated (1) Images of the day: [Left] Cutlet sandwich with mint: What I took along to eat during yesterday's noon music concert. And no, I did not eat both of them at once! [Center] A clear view of the Channel Islands in Goleta yesterday: This spring-like sunny day made us forget the cold, wet days of last week, but winter rains are not over. [Right] Iranian government's budget allocation to different constituents, graphically illustrated.
(2) Trump's new rhyming message for his campaign generates huge backlash: He wrote, "Build a wall & crime will fall," to which people responded, "Oppose a wall & Trump will fall" and "Mexico will pay, you used to say"!
(3) Trump named Nancy Pelosi in a statement and followed her full name by "whom I call Nancy": Sounded like he was ready to reveal a nickname/insult for Pelosi, but chickened out at the last second.
(4) After Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani said he may be remembered in his eulogy for lying for Trump, the Internet is having fun with suggestions on what should be etched on his tombstone: "Here lies Rudy Giuliani. And everywhere lied Rudy Giuliani." [Image]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Democrats' and Trump's plans to re-open the government both fail in the US Senate: Now what?
- After Giuliani's denial that plans for Trump Tower Moscow ever existed, BuzzFeed published this image.
- Political Humor: Trump's plan-B is to deliver the State of the Union Address at a DC McDonald's.
- Actor Jorge Antonio Guerrero, star of Oscar-nominated "Roma," is denied US visa to attend the Oscars.
- Iranian FM Zarif met with Iraqi minorities re their rights and national unity: Will he do the same in Iran?
- Woman who accused Iranian MP of rape found dead: Not known whether it was suicide or murder.
- Cargo plane crash in Iran kills 15 of 16 on board: Failed navigation system blamed. No one else was hurt.
- Spring-like weather, with highs of ~70 degrees, in store for us in Santa Barbara for another week. [Image]
(6) Social harm coming from child marriages: There is much discussion on Twitter about child marriages in Iran, with users sharing personal stories from their own or their friends' experiences. Here is one example.
(7) A bit late for MLK Day, but still worth posting: Martin Luther King is remembered mostly for his "I Have a Dream" speech, envisaging equal opportunities, regardless of one's skin color. Lesser known is his more poignant speech about Vietnam, in which he characterized the war as an enemy of the poor, given that young black men were sent to "guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem." [Adapted from an article by Viet Thanh Nguyen, in Time magazine, issue of Jan. 28, 2019]
(8) Final thought for the day: "The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist." ~ Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

2019/01/23 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The colorful fire-throated hummingbird David T. Walter's colorful carpet made of 2500 Hot Wheels toys Colorful art from a collection of temporary tattoos (1) Art and nature in full color: [Left] Fire-throated hummingbird. [Center] Traffic jam: David T. Walter turns 2500 Hot Wheels toys into a colorful carpet. [Right] Colorful art from a collection of temporary tattoos.
(2) A lie has no horn or tail: This Persian saying advises us that lies sometimes look quite normal, so we must be vigilant in identifying and exposing them. A historian did just that about Mike Pence's statement that likened Donald Trump to MLK.
(3) Losers who feel entitled to love and sex aren't as uncommon as one might think: A massacre of the kind this man was thinking about (killing as many girls as he could) happened near UCSB some 5 years ago. We all need to learn to see the signs and to act on suspicious behavior on social media and elsewhere.
(4) Energy intensity of transportation: According to an opinion piece in the Jan. 2019 issue of IEEE Spectrum, a single person driving a Honda Civic consumes 2 megajoules of energy per passenger-kilometer (2 MJ/pkm). With two occupants in the car, the energy intensity drops to 1 MJ/pkm, the same as that of a half-full bus. A full jetliner has an energy intensity of 1.5 MJ/pkm. Newer inter-city high-speed trains in Europe and Japan consume about 0.2 MJ/pkm. The best subways require less than 0.1 MJ/pkm, making them the least energy-intensive mode of transportation.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Remarkable examples of cooperation, coordination, and trust. [2-minute video]
- Persian music: Paris-based Bahar Choir collaborates with, and performs a piece by, Majid Derakhshan.
- Persian music: Chance meeting of two young Iranian pianists, Saman Ehteshami and Payam Samimi.
- Persian music: Rana Mansour's jazzy "Shohar-e Pooldar Nemikham" ("I Don't Want a Rich Husband").
(6) The fight for the future of the disk drive: Recording-density improvements of around 40% per year over the past few decades have recently dropped to ~10%. Seagate and Western Digital, aware of this problem, have opted for different approaches to solving it, one using microwave-assisted magnetic recording and the other using heat assist. It remains to be seen which approach wins. [From: IEEE Spectrum, issue of January 2019]
(7) World Music Series noon concert: Mariachi Las Olas de SB was supposed to perform at UCSB's Music Bowl today, but they couldn't make it. Instead a few members of two different local mariachi bands appeared and did an excellent job of entertaining the crowd and getting everyone involved in sing-alongs. [Video 1] [Video 2]
(8) Final thought for the day: "Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty." ~ Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

2019/01/22 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Adam Barr's 'The Problem with Software: Why Smart Engineers Write Bad Code' This year's Oscar-nominated lead actors and actresses A clever bookstore sign reads: Alternative facts can be found in our fiction section (1) Oscar nominees, sandwiched between book-related images: [Left] When good engineers write bad software: Interview with Adam Barr, author of a new book on software development, Why Smart Engineers Write Bad Code. [Center] This year's Oscar-nominated lead actors and actresses. (List of Oscar nominees) [Right] A clever bookstore sign reads: Alternative facts can be found in our fiction section.
(2) CS neuroscience faculty candidate talk: Decisions, decisions! There were two interesting but overlapping talks on campus this afternoon. Normally, in such cases, I choose one of the talks to attend, but today, I decided to sample the 3:30 talk and show up a tad late to the 4:00 talk. And I am glad I did!
Michael Bayeler (post-doc, U. Washington) talked about "Biologically Inspired Algorithms for Restoring Vision to the Blind." My understanding of the field of retinal prostheses is that most kinds of blindness and other visual impairments will soon disappear, as we learn to integrate light sensors with human brain's visual signal processing system.
Dr. Beyeler presented and discussed evidence showing nontrivial perceptual distortions caused by interactions between implant electronics and retinal neurophysiology. He then discussed how detailed knowledge of the visual system can be combined with data-driven techniques to develop novel encoding algorithms aimed at minimizing distortions and improving patient outcomes. He closed by outlining future strategies for leveraging virtual/augmented reality to quickly and efficiently test novel stimulation strategies in real-world tasks using visually typical individuals as 'virtual patients.' [Images]
Dr. Maryam Kia-Keating delivering a lecture at UCSB Library's Pacific View Room (3) UCSB Library's Pacific View Lecture: Dr. Maryam Kia-Keating (UCSB Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology, www.kiakeating.com) presented a very interesting and informative lecture this afternoon under the title "Exiled: Loss and Resilience Among Refugee and Forcibly Displaced Youth and Communities." [Slides]
When we think of refugees, we often visualize war and political unrest. However, forced displacements also occur because of economic instability, violence, natural disasters, and, most recently, climate change. The refugee problem is now worse than it has ever been, with one person forcibly displaced every 2 seconds worldwide. More than half of the refugees are children, who are particularly vulnerable to the sense of hopelessness resulting from having no home. The perils of being stateless was masterfully portrayed in the movie "Terminal," in which Tom Hanks played a man who was not wanted by any country, ending up spending 18 years inside Paris Airport.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by all UN member countries except for the US, will become 30 years old later this year. Ratifying states must act in the best interests of the child, which means compliance with child custody and guardianship laws, honoring children's basic rights, including the right to life, to their own name, and identity, to be raised by their parents within a family or cultural grouping, and to have a relationship with both parents, even if they are separated. These rights are obviously in greater jeopardy in the case of child refugees. One key cause for having so many stateless children is the fact than women do not possess the same citizenship and other rights as men.
Psychological impacts on child and adult refugees are not limited to the pre-migration period, as the migration itself, and re-settlement in the post-migration period are also serious stress factors. Occasionally, children are so impacted by loss of hope that they lose consciousness and may even become comatose, with no apparent medical cause.
People become de-sensitized to the plight of refugees when they are called "illegal immigrants." In fact, seeking refuge from war, violence, and other causes of trauma is legal worldwide. A key observation is that refugees must be empowered to become participants and partners, rather than be mere subjects (e.g., get them involved in taking photos, rather than becoming subjects of other people's photos). As observed by the founder of Chobani (a highly successful yogurt company), himself an immigrant, the moment a dislocated person gets a job, s/he ceases to be a refugee.
Far from being vulnerable and delicate individuals, immigrants are less likely to suffer chronic disease or premature death for the leading causes of death. This surprising outcome is known as the Immigrant Paradox. And the effect is not limited to health. Recent immigrants tend to outperform more-established immigrants and non-immigrants on education, conduct, and crime-related outcomes, despite the barriers they face to successful social integration.
Dr. Kia-Keating's talk is related to this year's "UCSB Reads" selection, Thi Bui's memoir entitled The Best We Could Do, which portrays her family's history in Vietnam and her parent's escape to the US. The book will be the subject of many campus-wide discussions, culminating in a public lecture by the author on April 25, 2019.
[In the margins: These photos include a panoramic view of the 8th-floor Pacific View Room, views from the room's windows, and the glass enclosure where an up-to-date scale-model of the entire campus is kept.]

2019/01/21 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Martin Luther King Day! Last night's 'super blood wolf moon' lunar eclipse Some of the honorees on the Forbes list of America's Top 50 Women in Tech (1) Images of the day: [Left] Happy Martin Luther King Day! (See item 2 below) [Center] Last night's "super blood wolf moon" lunar eclipse, with totality from 8:41 to 9:44 PM, PST. This total lunar eclipse will be the last ofits kind until 2033. [Right] Forbes issues list of America's Top 50 Women in Tech.
(2) Dr. King's message of love, peace, unity, and respect must be repeated more than ever, in order to counteract the hate, conflict, division, and discourtesy practiced by the current US administration. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
[P.S.: This weekend, we also marked two ominous occasions: Entering the third year of Trump's presidency and the second month of the US government shutdown.]
(3) Holland plans to teach the basics of AI to its citizens: The first phase of the ambitious plan entails educating 1% of the population (~ 55,000 people). [While we are occupied by government shutdown, building a wall, and bringing coal jobs back, other countries are preparing for the second half of the 21st century!]
(4) Women's rights: The right to enter a shrine in South India has sparked an intense national battle over women's rights. Two women who entered the forbidden Hindu Temple are now in hiding for fear of their lives.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Oil pipeline blast in Mexico kills 66.
- Raising taxes on the super-rich has broad support: 71/60/45% among Democrats/independents/Republicans.
- On Trump and lies: As the saying goes, people living in glass houses shouldn't be throwing stones. [Tweets]
- Trump always hires the best, the smartest, people: Then, they all turn dumb, lowlife, or crazy! [Cartoon]
- Comedian recalls when he was introduced to God and Jesus as a 4-year-old. [English; Persian subtitles]
- The average American lives in 11 different residences over a lifetime (mine is 18). [From an Allstate TV ad]
(6) Lectures on Iran at UCLA next week: Dr. Hashem Pesaran (USC Distinguished-Chair Economics Professor) will speak on "US Sanctions: Unfulfilled Expectations and Challenges Facing the Iranian Economy" (Sunday, January 27, 4:00 PM, Dodd Hall 121, in Persian; Monday, January 28, 4:00 PM, Kaplan 365, in English). [Flyer]
(7) On lies and politics: I tried to find the original wording of this Persian translation of a Hana Arendt quote but did not succeed: When a society faces organized lying, telling the truth turns into a political act. The truth-teller, even if not motivated politically, becomes a political activist. Under these conditions, you cannot set politics aside and go your own way: You must either join the ministry of deception or become a dissident.

2019/01/19 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Women's March Santa Barbara participants pass in front of the SB Courthouse on Anacapa Street Map of Vanak, Tehran, Iran, around 50 years ago, constructed from memory Selfie taken on my way back from Women's March Santa Barbara (1) Images of the day: [Left] Women's March Santa Barbara participants pass in front of the SB Courthouse on Anacapa Street. [Center] Map of Vanak, Tehran, Iran, around 50 years ago, constructed from memory (see the personal history under the last item below). [Right] On my way back from Women's March Santa Barbara, with my T-shirt message: "Fem.i.nism (fem-uh-niz-uhm), The radical notion that women are people."
(2) Women's March Santa Barbara: The program began at De La Guerra Plaza with song and dance performances, followed by a Chumash prayer and speeches by local politicians and community leaders. It then continued by marching westward on State Street, returning via Anacapa [Photos] [World Dance performing to the global women's anthem "Break the Chains"] [March video 1] [March video 2] [March video 3].
(3) Trouble among women marchers: Allegations of anti-semitism against the national organization coordinating the marches nationwide may have hampered participation this year. Santa Barbara's organizers reiterated their commitment to diversity and full equality during a TV appearance yesterday, as they claimed independence from the national organization.
(4) Vanak, Tehran, Iran (a personal history; see the map above): Vanak is a neighborhood in North Tehran, where my family lived from 1958 to 1991. A well-known traffic circle, near major thoroughfares in the capital city, and a tree-lined street in the area are named "Vanak." The neighborhood's name comes from a village that still existed in the 1980s; the name "Vanak" means "small (ash) tree."
At the time we lived there, major landmarks in Vanak included Iran Plan & Budget Organization's Factory #5, where my dad worked as an engineer for many years, a historic Armenian village/fort surrounded by walls, and, later on, the Girls' College (built on an abandoned cemetery and land acquired from private owners) and later renamed Farah Pahlavi University and, after the Islamic Revolution, Alzahra University. The neighborhood now boasts a major Armenian Sports Club (Ararat) and is home to high-rise residential and commercial buildings. Hotel Vanak, an amusement park, named "Fun Faar" (derived from the English "Fun Fair"), and a miniature golf course used to occupy three of Vanak Circle's corners, with the high-rise Sheraton Hotel not far away.
We lived at two locations in Vanak, both alongside the extension of Vanak Avenue, where it veered to the north upon passing the Factory Circle and its bus stop.
The first location, was a rented 5-room apartment in Alizadeh Building, named after the owner. We lived at one end of the building, on the second floor. The building's first floor on the street side was taken up by businesses, including a small grocery store, or baghghaali, a metal-working shop (which made doors, windows, and fences, and treated us to banging, welding, and grinding sounds all day long), and a workshop/mini-factory that my dad occupied to make metal furniture, including folding beds that were in high demand. The building had a large garden on its back side, which was out of bounds to us, except when the owner's rep, who occupied a first-floor unit, let us in to use the algae-covered, green-water pool.
The second location was at a 1.5-story building that my dad designed and built to house his workshop/factory and a residential quarter for the family. There were also a couple of street-front shops, which he planned to use as the factory's offices and, perhaps, rent out to other businesses. Soon he closed his factory and the large hall where metal furniture pieces were to be built became our over-size living room. The backyard had flower beds and trees along the sides and a swimming pool in the middle, which for some reason was rarely filled with water. Most of the family photos we have from those days show an empty swimming pool. My dad had a deep well dug in one corner of the yard for our water supply and built a simple structure on the far end of the yard, which held a largish warehouse on one side and toilet/shower facilities on the other. Later remodeling added a bathroom at the main part of the house, sparing us from having to walk through rain and snow, shovel in hand, for bathroom visits!
My parents sold the latter house dirt-cheap when they immigrated to the US to join their children. Later, the building was demolished to accommodate a street-widening project, which gobbled up much of the land. The new owner erected a multi-story building on the back side of the lot to take the greatest advantage of the now-more-valuable land. I have seen recent photos of the area where our house once stood, which is totally unrecognizable to me.
P.S.: Whenever Queen Farah came to visit the university in Vanak, or, less frequently, when the Shah visited, the potholes on the main road were filled, dirt roads in the area were sprinkled with water, vegetation was trimmed (and sometimes new flower bushes planted), and the crumbling walls on both sides of the road were painted over. Everything went back to its normal crummy state in a few days!

2019/01/18 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fake issue of <i>The Washington Post</i>, recently distributed in the DC area Super-Moon total lunar eclipse Map of Iran, comparing its provinces to other world countries in terms of area (1) Interesting images: [Left] Fake issue of The Washington Post, recently distributed in the DC area. [Center] Super-Moon lunar eclipse coming on Sunday 1/20, beginning at 10:34 PM EST: Super-Moon is when the Moon is closest to Earth and thus appears larger. The event will last for 3.5 hours, giving us 63 minutes of totality. [Right] It's a big country: Map of Iran, comparing its provinces to other world countries in terms of area.
(2) Beauty isn't the only thing that's in the eye of the beholder: Perceptions vary. It's possible for the same object to be perceived as a sphere by one person and as a cube by another.
(3) History in pictures: This newspaper clipping shows Donald Trump in Tehran, ca. 1978, accompanied by actors Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty. Trump's plans to build a casino on Iran's Caspian coast were scrapped due to political unrest preceding the Islamic Revolution.
[Correction: The photo in the clipping was actually taken in Africa and the rest of the story is likely fake.]
(4) [Political humor] Breaking news: Democrats have agreed to funding the wall to reopen the government, on the condition that Trump stays on the other side of the wall!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump fired Comey and Flynn on advice from Kushner, who told him it will help end the Russia probe.
- Persian music: A tender poem in praise of mother, recited by singer/poet Homay. [8-minute video]
- Those were the days: Tehran, Iran, ca. 1956. [9-minute video]
- A UK immigration officer placed his wife's name on a terror watch list after she traveled to Pakistan.
(6) Where is ardent Trump supporter Devin Nunes? After a period of disappearance, he is back in the news, because Robert Mueller and Manhattan federal prosecutors are looking into a breakfast meeting he attended, along with Michael Flynn and a number of foreign officials in connection with Trump's inaugural celebrations.
(7) Connections coming to light: A computer tech specialist working for Jerry Falwell Jr.'s Liberty University was paid by Trump to manipulate on-line polls in his favor.
(8) Four US soldiers killed in Syria by the supposedly-defeated ISIS: Will there be endless investigations of this incident, as there were for the four Americans who died in Benghazi, Libya?
(9) Temporary river: I took this photo at Goleta's Coal Oil Point, where the Devereux Slough connects to the ocean when it's full. Water is seen flowing into the ocean at low tide. In this 2.5-minute video, water is seen flowing into the ocean at low tide. My narration is barely audible over the sounds of the wind and raging water.

2019/01/17 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Dangers of vehicles driving on UCSB campus walkways, Photo 1 Colorful patterns, natural and artificial (photo montage) Dangers of vehicles driving on UCSB campus walkways, Photo 2 (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Poor planning endangers safety at UCSB: The new Bioengineering Building on our campus (like several older buildings) does not have any road access, so the only way to get to the parking and deliveries area behind it is via driving a significant distance on a busy walkway. Yesterday, Wednesday 1/16, as I was walking back to my office around 1:00 PM, I observed a large delivery truck drive on the walkway to the east of the Bioengineering Building to get to the delivery area on its north side; several other cars were parked in that lot, which must have gotten there by driving on the same busy walkway. How did this multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art project get approved without mitigating its vehicle access problem? [Center] Photo montage: Colorful patterns, natural and artificial.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Senior Pentagon personnel are nervous about Trump's unpredictability and his politicization of the military.
- Pelosi told Trump he could deliver the State-of-The-Union address in writing: Here's a leaked draft copy.
- An apparently record-breaking ice disk measuring 300 feet in diameter floats on a Maine river in the US.
- Southern Californians are alarmed that they have not been able to drive with their sun-roofs open for 3 days!
- The Republican Party of the 21st-century America: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. [Image]
- Some English terms for money. [Image]
- Persian poetry: Mr. Haloo's humorous poem about a just-married couple and their first night together.
- Old-time Iranian singer Hooshmand Aghili gets emotional as he is honored by his peers.
- The story behind Costco's Kirkland brand, which has helped it increase profits as other retailers struggle.
(3) An embarrassment of riches: In a third talk by a CS neuroscience faculty candidate in as many days, Hannah Choi (post-doc at U. Washington; PhD in applied math from Northwestern) spoke today under the title "Bridging Structure, Dynamics, and Computation in Brain Networks." Because the talk overlapped with another talk that was of greater interest to me, I did not attend. This post will serve as a reminder for me to pursue the subject later. [Dr. Hannah Choi's Web page]
(4) "Zero-Carbon Cloud: Reducing the Cloud's Growing Carbon Footprint and Enabling High-Renewable Power Grid": This was the title of a talk this afternoon by Dr. Andrew Chien (U. Chicago), sponsored by UCSB's Institute for Energy Efficiency. Data centers and other cloud infrastructure are energy-intensive and, despite the efforts expended and claims made (e.g., by Google), we are a long way from achieving zero-emission powering of the cloud. In connection with the goal of a zero-carb cloud, Dr. Chien discussed a number of computing research challenges, including resource prediction, adaptive workload distribution, new distributed protocols, and novel business models.
(5) Film screening at UCSB's Pollock Theater: As part of the "Beatles Revolutions" series, the 1964 film "A Hard Day's Night" was screened tonight, followed by a discussion with journalist Ivor Davis, who accompanied the Beatles on their 5-week North-American tour. The 1964 tour was kicked off with an appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Director Richard Lester's semi-documentary style captures the Beatlemania of 1964 and the shear fun the Fab Four had with their quick rise to fame. In the discussion, moderated by David Novak (UCSB Professor of Music), Davis recounted his first-hand experiences during the tour, in which music and lyrics were drowned out by screams from young fans. One of those screaming/weeping girls happened to be sitting in Pollock theater's front row tonight. The music and sound quality are first-rate, so, if you have not seen the film in a theater, consider doing so at the first opportunity.

2019/01/16 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
'Time' magazine's cover photo, issue of January 21, 2019: The art of the duel 'New Yorker' cartoon of the day: 'Wow, I wonder what the losing team got' The highly over-rated actress Meryl Streep impersonates the highly over-rated dealmaker Donald Trump! (1) Trump images of the day: [Left] Time magazine's cover photo, issue of January 21, 2019: The art of the duel. [Center] New Yorker cartoon of the day: "Wow, I wonder what the losing team got." [Right] The highly over-rated actress Meryl Streep impersonates the highly over-rated dealmaker Donald Trump!
(2) One of the "Girls of Revolution Street," who stood against Iran's mandatory hijab laws by removing their headscarves in public, writes about her ordeal at Iranian stone-age courts in cases of domestic abuse and freedom of speech. A truly heartbreaking story! [Facebook post, in Persian]
(3) The liberalization of America: More people self-identify as liberal (once considered a negative term) than ever before. In a quarter of century, the fraction of Americans who support gay marriage and legalization of pot has grown from about 1/4 to 2/3.
(4) Conservatives insist that the US has the best healthcare system in the world, yet Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has chosen to undergo surgery in Canada, a country with awful, socialized, universal healthcare! Paul and others like him remind me of Iranian mullahs, who travel abroad for even routine medical care, while chanting the slogan of self-sufficiency for mere mortals.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- More than a decade after masterminding the USS Cole attack, a key Al-Qaeda operative is dead.
- The clueless, heartless, tactless, classless, amoral POTUS does it again! [Tweets]
- Newspaper censures woman's obituary that blamed Trump for contributing to her death. [From Newsweek]
- UCLA gymnast's delightful perfect-10 floor routine, channeling Tina Turner and Michael Jackson, goes viral.
(6) World Music Series noon concert: Very few people were in attendance at today's event, Klezmer and Balkan Music with Kalinka. Perhaps the rain made people think that the outdoor performance would be cancelled, whereas it was moved indoors. One of the band members joked that it felt like an academic conference, with a 1:1 ratio of panelists to audience members! [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4]
(7) "Perceptual Engineering": This was the title of a talk by UCSB CS faculty candidate Misha Sra this afternoon. Dr. Sra (PhD, MIT, 2018) is a Research Affiliate at MIT's Media Lab.
Our bodies interact with the physical world in rich and elaborate ways, whereas digital interactions are far more limited. Dr. Sra's Research raises computing devices from external systems that require deliberate usage to those that are true extensions of us.
In Dr. Sra's view, using the entire body for input and output allows for implicit and natural interactions. By building devices and immersive systems (such as the one for virtual scuba diving that replicates the actions and sensations of a human under water, while operating on a dry platform), Dr. Sra aims to modify a user's sense of space, place, body, balance, and orientation and manipulate his/her visual attention, so as to assist or guide the interactive experience in an effortless way and without explicit user input. [Images]
One of Dr. Sra's projects about counteracting motion sickness is described in this 11-minute TEDx talk.

2019/01/15 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Vulnerability of US entry points to terrorists infilteration A few memes about the struggles of Iranian women to regain their rights Trump treats Clemson's championship football team to food from Wendy's, McDonald's, and Burger King (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Vulnerability of US entry points to terrorists infilteration. [Center] A few memes about the struggles of Iranian women: Women's resistance to mandatory hijab laws and other manifestations of misogyny in social and judicial settings is one of the bright spots in the fight for freedom in Iran. [Right] Trump treats Clemson's championship football team to food from Wendy's, McDonald's, and Burger King: Next, he'll cut NASA's budget and send them Space-Set Lego Blocks from a local toy store's clearance section.
(2) Unlikely Iranian spies in Southern California: "Within the span of a year—from the summer of 2017 to the spring of 2018—authorities say the men crisscrossed Orange County and the United States, videotaping participants at MEK rallies in New York and Washington, D.C., and photographing Jewish centers in Chicago."
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Increasingly isolated, Trump quotes Pat Buchanan and claims most Americans support his border wall.
- Trump's "Amazon Washington Post" should be recipropcated with "Trump Organization White House."
- Rep. Steve King removed from committee posts in wake of racist and White-Supremacist comments.
- Veterans, the primary victims of higher-education scams, oppose DeVos's proposed deregulation.
- Saudi teen, who left her country to escape abuse and seek freedom, granted refugee status by Canada.
- Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, jailed in Iran since 2016, starts hunger strike in a bid to get medical attention.
- Tiny cotton plants have sprouted as a result of a biology experiment by the Chinese lunar lander.
- Hubble Space Telescope's life is expected to come to an end by the mid-2020s.
- U. California warns students/faculty against using messaging apps and social media while visiting China.
- Actress Carol Channing, of the "Hello, Dolly!" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" fame, dead at 97.
(4) Shades of last year: Evacuation orders are in place around Santa Barbara over the expectation of several days of rain and the possibility of flash floods and mud/debris flows. They took effect at 10 AM on Tuesday 1/15 for areas below the Sherpa, Whittier, and Thomas fire burn areas.
(5) "Bridging the Spatiotemporal Neural Dynamics of Recurrent Processes in the Brain with Deep Hierarchical Convolutional Neural Network Models": This mouthful of a title belonged to a CS faculty candidate talk this afternoon at UCSB. The speaker, Dr. Yalda Mohsenzadeh, is a postdoc at MIT and received her graduate degrees from Sharif University of Technology (MS, 2009) and Amirkabir University (PhD, 2014), both in Tehran. Her work relies on a combination of EEG/MEG, which provide good temporal resolution, and fMRI, which has good spatial resolution, in an effort to arrive at mm and msec resolutions for studying brain activity. The talk consisted of three complementary parts, followed by a description of the speaker's future research plans. First, a novel method for characterizing the interplay of feedforward and feedback mechanisms along the human ventral visual stream, which suggests that recurrent artificial neural networks can better explain the neural data in challenging visual tasks, was presented. Second, Dr. Mohsenzadeh showed how some visual events are privileged by perceptual processing for potential successful memory encoding, offering a new way of characterizing the spatiotemporal neural signature of visual memorability in the human brain. Third, via a novel method to examine what an artificial deep neural network has learned, Dr. Mohsenzadeh showed how biological and artificial networks share many more similarities than previously believed. [A few slides]
(6) Film screening at UCSB's Pollock Theater: "Nadie" (a 2017 documentary, whose title means "Nobody") tells the story of love and deception in the Cuban revolution, seen through the eyes of a man who was initially mesmerized by its possibilities. Rafael Alcides, who talks for much of the film, was once a celebrated writer. Now, a stranger in his own country, a nobody, he tries to salvage his unpublished novels as the ink fades away from their pages. Miguel Coyula's film is a pop-culture collage, combining clips from old movies, photographs, and imaginary conversations, all held together by the magnetic personality of raconteur Rafael Alcides.
The film's screening was followed by a discussion with Miguel Coyola (writer/director/co-producer) and Lynn Cruz (actor/co-producer), moderated by Cristina Venegas (Film & Media Studies, UCSB). Apparently, the director and producers of the film also became nobodies, given the reverence with which Castro is viewed in Cuba and the extreme censorship of all that is critical of him.
Even though the director categorizes his film as a "documentary," much of the imagery is digitally manipulated, making it of a different genre (historical commentary?). Some examples of such manipulations were shown during the Q&A period. [Some images]

2019/01/14 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Right before disaster strikes: Bat about to hit chin Right before disaster strikes: When you gotta go Right before disaster strikes: Falling in the pool Right before disaster strikes: Cargo about to go Right before disaster strikes: Elephant's toy car Right before disaster strikes: Knocking over a vase (1) Unfortunate events: [Top left] Bat about to hit chin. [Top center] When you gotta go. [Top right] Falling in the pool. [Bottom left] Cargo about to go. [Bottom center] Elephant's toy car. [Bottom right] Museum oops!
(2) Perfect retort to the Trump tweet slamming FBI and Comey: "When you're attacking FBI agents because you're under criminal investigation, you're losing." ~ Sarah Huckabee Sanders' tweet of November 3, 2016
(3) An emerging pattern: The Saudi government may have rescued a Saudi man awaiting trial for rape in Canada. They had done this for an accused murderer in Oregon.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Death toll of massive US winter storm, from the Midwest to the mid-Atlantic, stands at 7 and rising.
- Trump's anti-FBI tweet and Comey's reply: "I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made." ~ FDR
- Racism rewarded: Megyn Kelly is out at NBC but will be given the full amount of her $69 million contract.
- Trump risks financial disaster for America, says the President of a country whose economy is in tatters!
- James Watson of the DNA double-helix fame has been stripped of his honors over racist comments.
- Highly creative Olympics ice-dancing: Tango with a Chair. [2-minute video]
- Azeri music: A wonderful performance of "Sari Galin" by a group of school children. [5-minute video]
- Trevor Noah's 8-minute stand-up comedy routine about his racial identity and racism in South Africa.
- Traditional Persian music: Mastan Ensemble performs. [4-minute video]
- Jim Carrey impersonating 12 famous people in 1992. [Photos]
- Ancient Irish "healing soil" contains bacteria that halt the growth of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
(5) Trump responds to reports of chaos in the WH by tweeting that he is home alone: Tweeter users consider this a sign of isolation, rather than reassuring.
(6) World's top 10 most-educated countries [educated fraction rounded to the nearest percent]: Canada 56, Japan 51, Israel 50, Korea 47, UK 46, USA 46, Australia 44, Finland 44, Norway 43, Luxembourg 43.

2019/01/13 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Punishment by lashing in the Islamic Republic of Iran (cartoon by Touka Neyestani) This wall at UCSB Library used to be covered with a shelf that held new books: Another casualty of the digital revolution! Cartoon: Lady Liberty replaced by Liberty Wall (1) Troubling sights: [Left] Punishment by lashing in the Islamic Republic of Iran (cartoon by Touka Neyestani). [Center] This wall at UCSB Library used to be covered with a shelf that held new books: It was my favorite spot to spend some time before or between meetings, to discover new books outside my areas of expertise. Another casualty of the digital revolution! [Right] Lady Liberty being replaced by Liberty Wall.
(2) The number 33 is very special (part of birthday message to my son, who turns 33 today): It is the product of the primes 3 and 11, thus being a semiprime. The smallest run of 3 consecutive semiprime integers begins with 33 (the next run is 85, 86, 87). Coincidentally, 11 is the binary representation of 3. It is the sum of the first four positive factorials. It is a master number, along with 11 and 22. It is the smallest odd number n such that n + x! isn't a prime for any x. It is the smallest positive integer yet to be represented as a^3+b^3+c^3. Al-Ghazali claimed that dwellers of Heaven will forever exist in a state of being 33.
(3) "Back to the Future: The Return of US Economic Sanctions and Iran's Response" [With thanks to Dr. Bavafa for sending me his slides and submitting several clarifications]:
This was the title of today's Persian lecture at UCLA's Dodd Hall, Room 121, which will repeat tomorrow in English at Bunche Hall, Room 10383, as part of the Iranian Studies Outreach Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran. The speaker, Dr. Reza Bavafa, is an adjunct professor at USC's Marshall School of Business. Dr. Bavafa teaches courses in economics and business strategy and has had 25 years of executive management experience with AT&T and IBM.
Dr. Kazem Alamdari introduced the speaker and moderated the discussion that followed the lecture, in lieu of the lecture series' coordinator, Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, who is abroad on a conference trip.
Dr. Bavafa began with a disclaimer: Given that the new Trump administration sanctions on Iran are only a tad over two months old, their effects are not yet known in full, so we must extrapolate from previous sanctions regimes, and employ economic models, to predict their effects. Another disclaimer, that Dr. Bavafa mentioned during the talk and Q&A period, is that he is not versed to speak about the political and psychological impacts of sanctions, so his focus is on economic effects and on the effectiveness of sanctions in achieving their stated goals. Many sanctions and responses to them are politically motivated in order to score points with the base at source and/or target countries. There are also psychological impacts on both sides, which are outside the scope of this talk.
Dr. Bavafa indicated that his talk covers five points: Defining economic sanctions, history of sanctions against Iran, reinstatement of sanctions in November 2018, impact of sanctions, and Iran's potential response.
US sanctions apply to "US Persons," that is, US citizens and permanent residents, no matter where they live, anyone physically present in the US, and US entities such as corporations. Secondary sanctions apply to entities with economic ties to both the US and Iran, thus potentially capable of circumventing the sanctions via indirect deals. Although there are counterexamples, generally speaking, economic sanctions have been less than successful in achieving their goals.
Considering a two-dimensional space characterized by a country's degree of dependence on imports (high or low) and it having or not having strategic exports as a crude version (that focuses only on two of the more prominent parameters) of a model used in the literature on this topic, one can distinguish four quadrants. Most vulnerable to sanctions are counties with high degrees of dependence on imports and with no strategic exports (Liberia). Countries with little dependence on imports are usually not affected by sanctions (North Korea, with no strategic exports, and China, with a great deal of exports). Iran falls in the fourth quadrant, because it is highly dependent on imports, but also has oil as a strategic export.
The case of Iran is rather puzzling. The 3-decade sanctions spanning 1979-2010, resulting from the hostage crisis, though economically devastating, had more limited effects on changing Iran's behavior than the broadly-supported and deep 2012-2015 sanctions arising from the nuclear program, which eventually brought Iran to the negotiating table and led to the JCPOA (recently overturned by the Trump administration, while still considered valid by the Europeans, China, and Russia).
The reinstated sanctions are expected to be somewhat less effective than those in 2012-2015, for a variety of reasons, including the absence of "carrot" to complement the "stick." First, Iran is allowed to sell oil to certain countries that would be greatly inconvenienced if Iran's oil were not available to them. Second, the sanctions are unilateral and not supported by US partners in the nuclear deal. Third, reduction in both the unemployment rate and of inflation, from 30% to around 10% (although the figure shot up to 35% upon declaration of the new sanctions), anti-corruption measures, and in-progress banking reforms, including control of money-laundering, may spur foreign investments.
The previous round of sanctions created problems for the country in terms of an increase in poverty levels, especially in provinces with smaller urban populations, although in terms of inequality, Iran is surprisingly in better shape than the US. The bottom line is that sanctions affected villages much more severely than cities.
Demonstrations against rampant inflation in Iranian cities are signs of trouble to come. Iran was expected to have a 4% growth this year, which was downgraded to -1.6% upon the mere announcement of the new sanctions (a reduction of 5.6%). Another 4% decrease in growth is projected for next year.
In conclusion, the reinstated US sanctions are not expected to be super-effective, thus giving Iran some flexibility in how it responds to them. The Trump administration has stated that regime change is not a goal of the reinstated sanctions. In fact, the globally unpopular sanctions may serve to strengthen the Iranian regime, as people rally around the leadership. Conservatives in both the US and Iran seem to be the main beneficiaries of the sanctions.
The Facebook version of this post also includes photos and a Persian summary. [The speaker's slides]

2019/01/12 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
World's largest neuromorphic computer, built at U. Manchester Researchers are replicating honeybee's tiny brain, containing about 1 million neurons, to improve drone navigation Tech goes to Broadway: The latest stage King Kong (1) Science and technology: [Left] World's largest neuromorphic computer: Built at U. Manchester, the $20M machine contains 1M processor cores and mimics the brain's massive parallelism. Its design concept will be scaled up in future to model up to 1B neurons. [Center] Beeline navigation: Researchers are replicating honeybee's tiny brain, containing about 1 million neurons, to improve drone navigation. (Credit: Cover of Prism magazine, issue of December 2018) [Right] Tech goes to Broadway: The latest stage King Kong is a 2000-pound, 20-foot-tall blending of art and technology, controlled by on-board hydraulics and a team of puppeteers. Despite this marvel of animatronics, the Broadway version of "King Kong" has received poor reviews.
(2) How do evangelical Christians reconcile their love and support for Israel with their belief that all Jews will go to hell unless they convert to Christianity?
(3) Persian music: This nostalgic song, entitled "Grandma's House," is recognizable by next-generation Iranians (the generation after me) as the theme song of a children's TV program.
(4) Persian music: My friend Koorosh (Kory) Yazdani sings his composition "Mi-Khaahamat" ("I Desire You"), based on a poem by another friend, Partow Nooriala. [5-minute video]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Cost to GDP of the current government shutdown will likely exceed Trump's wall funding demand. [Chart]
- Federal agencies affected by the current partial government shutdown (9 out of 15). [Chart]
- Virginia Federal Appeals Court: Politicians who block citizens on social media violate First Amendment.
- A detailed history of Donald Trump's connections to the mob, both in the US and in Russia.
- Changing our perception of beauty: Photographing women from 60 different countries. [Pictorial]
- Official Queen video of "Bohemian Rhapsody" (inspired a new movie by the same name). Its live version.
(6) Bad news: Catastrophic collisions are coming to our Milky Way galaxy. Good news: The first collision is expected in about 2 billion years. [CNN story]
(7) The Trump administration is breaking records left and right: On the heels of the longest government shutdown in history, we now have an agency head resigning before he is confirmed by Congress.
(8) Final thought for the day: Trump was essentially forced to be hostile to the press and his political opponents. With so many skeletons in his closet, he couldn't defend himself in any other way but via preemptively declaring his critics spiteful and biased.

2019/01/11 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Changes by age group in the composition of the US House in the 2018 midterm elections China's Lunar Rover exploring the far side of the moon Trump's tax plan of 1999: A one-time 14.25% net-worth tax to eliminate the national debt (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Changes by age group in the composition of the US House in the 2018 midterm elections: Significant increases in the number of Gen-Xers and Millennials. [Center] China's rover exploring the far side of the moon (More photos). [Right] Trump's tax plan of 1999: A one-time 14.25% net-worth tax to eliminate the national debt. His economic plan evolved from "soak the rich" to "screw the poor" in two decades!
(2) The US Supreme Court will not intervene in the legal battle between Special Counsel Robert Mueller and an unknown foreign corporation fighting his grand-jury subpoena.
(3) Predatory artists: We must remember that each act of support or fandom, insignificant as it may seem in the grand scheme of things, serves to enable the despicable behavior.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Fiat-Chrysler to pay $800 million to settle DoJ, EPA, and California lawsuits over false emissions readings.
- CA's commitment to getting all of its electricity from green sources by 2045 is spreading to other states.
- At least two dozen US electric utilities are believed to have been compromised by Russian hackers.
- Hurricane-stricken town in the Florida Panhandle is now dealing with "Hurricane Government Shutdown."
- American co-presidents: Donald Trump, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh. [Photos]
- Amazon's Jeff Bezos and former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez, both in the middle of divorces, are dating.
(5) Disaster relief (humor): In a stunning development, FEMA has decided to allocate funds to Trump's wall to get him off people's nerves, given that no hurricane, flood, or wildfire has caused this much trauma!
(6) It's unclear whether volunteers can clean up the mess at Southern California's Joshua Tree National Park, left because of government shutdown. But it's heart-warming that they are trying.
(7) Our very helpful government has advised fed workers without paychecks to be creative: Hold garage sales, baby-sit, walk a neighbor's dog, ...; do these people even know how much a baby-sitter or a dog-walker earns?
(8) Seeing old-time friends: Ten of my college classmates from 50+ years ago and their families got together in Tehran and were kind enough to include me in their merriment via FaceTime.
(9) Mike Pompeo's abhorrent Cairo speech: In his Middle East policy statement, he said not one word about the murderous dictators in the region but took several shots at former President Obama! [Full text]

2019/01/10 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Yesterday was the 1-year anniversary of the mudflow in Santa Barbara's Montecito area Beautiful sunset shots in Goleta, California, from January 9, 2015 Khosro Harandi, former chess champion and a staff member at Iran's Sharif University of Technology, has passed away at 68 (1) Some remembrances: [Left] Yesterday was the 1-year anniversary of the mudflow in Santa Barbara's Montecito area. The death toll was 21, with 28 others injured. Wikipedia has an article about the disaster, which was a consequence of Thomas Fire in late 2017. [Center] Beautiful sunset shots in Goleta, California, from January 9, 2015. [Right] Khosro Harandi, former Iranian chess champion and a staff member at Iran's Sharif University of Technology, has passed away at 68. RIP!
(2) Economic insecurities, exposed by the current government shutdown: In the world's richest country, 78% of workers live paycheck-to-paycheck. This makes the relatively low unemployment rate rather irrelevant.
(3) Homophobia, like racism and anti-Semitism, is rearing its ugly head under Trump: Evangelical group wants gays removed from an anti-lynching bill passed last month by the US Senate.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump plans to order FEMA to stop helping fire-ravaged California: Childish rage to punish a blue state!
- Saudi power couple, a stand-up comic and a women's-rights activist, have disappeared from the scene.
- Mass transit, in the true sense of the term: Bangladesh railway. [2-minute video]
- A capsule history of the Persian language and its influence on other languages. [2-minute video]
- The New Yorker's glowing review of the comedy "Pig," to be shown at NY's upcoming Iranian Film Festival.
- Wonderful 3D design app: Of course, nothing is as easy as it appears in demos, but I'm still impressed.
- A joke for my Persian-speaking readerss: It uses an utterly untranslatable play on words. [Tweet]
- Persian music: A wonderful rendition of the old song "Mey-Zadeh Shab." [4-minute video]
(5) Heard on the radio while driving (didn't catch the attribution): Usually, the president uses an Oval-Office address to calm a frightened public. This must be the first time a president has used it to frighten a calm public!
(6) On declaring national emergency: Having painted himself into a corner with no way to declare victory upon ending the government shutdown, Trump is increasingly likely to see a declaration of national emergency as the only way to appease his base and seem strong to his nut-job right-wing bosses in the media.
(7) Impact of government shutdown on science and technology: Researchers at federal agencies, including Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, and US Geological Survey, are banned from any form of work activity, including opening of e-mails, during the current government shutdown.

2019/01/09 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Moon landing's 50th anniversary coming up: Washington Post's front page Moon landing's 50th anniversary coming up: Ticker-tape parade in NYC Moon landing's 50th anniversary coming up: Man walking on the moon (1) Moon landing's 50th anniversary coming up: Astronauts Neil Armstrong (right), Michael Collins (Center), and Buzz Aldrin (left) received a ticker-tape parade in NYC upon returning from the moon in July 1969.
(2) Will Iran start a preemptive war? Rather likely, considering this statement from the Revolutionary Guards Corps Commander: "Until now the strategy of the Islamic Republic has been defensive. But it seems that from now on we must be ready to take the offensive and go after the enemy."
(3) Iranian journalist lashed in public: Poet, satirist, and Telegram-channel administrator Mohammad-Hossein Sodagar received 74 lashes after his conviction for "disseminating false information."
(4) After years of denial/hedging, Iran publicly admits to having conducted regular talks with the Taliban: Can you guess which of these two men in this photo (credit: Iranwire) is the Taliban representative?
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- According to Andy Borowitz (humorist), Trump's speech on border security is simulcast in English!
- Democrats demand equal time if TV networks devoted time to Trump's prime-time address of yesterday.
- The best news analyses now occur on comedy shows: Seth Meyers' "A Closer Look" feature, in particular.
- No collusion? Paul Manafort fed campaign information to Russian with intelligence ties.
- Singer R. Kelly will likely be the next giant of the entertainment industry to fall due to sexual misconduct.
- On being radical: It is giving bigger tax breaks to the rich that's radical; taxing them more is mainstream!
- US academic institutions are being drained of AI talent by the lure of projects at tech giants.
- The Dunning-Kruger effect (psychology): Educational Facebook post from January 8, 2018.
- Bumper sticker, spotted in Goleta yesterday: "Science Is Not A Conspiracy" [Photo]
- Asian Cup: Iran's national soccer team beat Yemen 5-0. Hoping it does just as well against stronger teams.
(6) Trump administration's lies continue, getting bolder by the day: Six terrorist arrests at the Mexico border is inflated to 4000. That's a factor of ~17 higher than the Iranian saying "counting one crow as 40 crows"!
(7) Trump lies himself and forces others to lie to cover for him: Both Mike Pence and Sarah Huckabee Sanders backed up Trump's lie that 4000 terrorists had been apprehended at our southern border.
(8) Will the wave of new women representatives bring changes to sexual harassment laws? Perhaps not directly, in terms of the effect of additional votes, but certainly indirectly, as a result of men talking and acting differently in the presence of women (e.g., no locker-room talk, where multiple women are present).

2019/01/08 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of Andrew Lloyd Webber's memoir 'Unmasked' World's most-beautiful bookshop, located in Buenos Aires, Argentina Cover image of Sally Field's dark memoir 'In Pieces' (1) Reviewing two memoirs from the world of entertainment (see items 2 and 3 below) and sharing a photo of the world's most-beautiful bookshop (a converted old opera house), located in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
(2) Book review: Lloyd Webber, Andrew, Unmasked: A Memoir, unabridged audiobook on 13 CDs, read by the author and Derek Perkins, Harper Audio, 2018. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
In this memoir, Lloyd Webber [b. 1948], composer of some of the most successful musical theaters of all time (such as "The Phantom of the Opera," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Cats," and "Evita"), elaborates on his 5-decade reign over the musical theater world, his creative process, and collaboration with luminaries such as Tim Rice.
Lloyd Webber is by far the most commercially successful composer in history and his company is a major theater operator in London. He is one of only 15 people in the world to have received all four major entertainment honors (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). Let me stop listing the glories at this point and refer you to the Wikipedia article on Lloyd Webber for a complete list of his awards, honors, and professional achievements.
A large number of world-famous celebrities make cameo appearances in the audiobook, which is really the first half of his life's story, ending with the opening performance of "The Phantom of the Opera" in 1986, a show that is still running after more than three decades. Critics of Unmasked have faulted Lloyd Webber for his verbosity and for not pacing his presentation. The length of the book is in part due to including a lot of backstage or making-of details for each of his productions.
Lloyd Webber has a reputation for being a difficult person, but he also has many admirers and defenders. This dichotomy extends to assessing the quality of his music, some praising his melodic gift and success in bridging Broadway and opera, and others characterizing his music as repetitive and overbearing. I am definitely in the first group!
(3) Book review: Field, Sally, In Pieces, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Hachette Audio, 2018. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Telling her story for the first time, in her own words and voice, Field, the winner of two Oscars and three Emmy Awards over a long, continuing acting career, writes primarily about a challenging and lonely childhood. The sad, frightened face of a young Sally Field on the cover reflects the book's tone.
Field was apprehensive about telling her life story, being unsure of whether she wanted to share certain events and of her writing chops. Known affectionately as America's Sweetheart, Field reveals aspects of her personality that are anything but sweet. She suffered through self-doubt (for example, she deemed herself not pretty enough for leading roles), even as she carved a successful acting career for herself. Throughout her life, Field has been angry and seemingly incapable of forming relationships, even with her spaced-out mother, until much later in life.
Perhaps, the most significant revelation in the book is Field's long-term sexual abuse as a young girl by her stepfather. The abusive stepfather told a contrived version of his deeds (essentially claiming that it was a one-time thing caused by drunkenness) to Field's mother, and begged for forgiveness. Field told her mother much later that the abuse had gone on for years. The weight of being almost completely ignored as a child may have made Field susceptible to her stepfather's advances. When Field's relationship with her mother improved and they had open talks, the mother asked why she had not been told about the long-term abuse. Field offers an enlightening explanation: Because she was only a child and had no idea how other children lived and whether her stepfather's actions were a normal part of everyone's childhood.
Much of what Field writes in this book, including the sexual abuse and a secret abortion in Mexico at age 17, is news to her three grown sons, from two marriages, and to her siblings. To the people around her and the world at large, Field seemed as totally in control and enjoying her life and career. Maybe the happiest-looking people are hiding the most angst! In Field's case, the craft of acting seems to have been what saved her from consequences of the type of childhood that drowns many people.
Field writes about her relationships with actor Burt Reynolds and singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb, as well as her marriages to Steven Craig and Alan Greisman. Reynolds, in particular, emerges as petty, angry, envious, manipulative, and controlling. Some have criticized Field for bad-mouthing Burt Reynolds (who is dead) and Jimmy Webb (who recalls their love affair differently and claims that he left Field out of his own memoir because he respected her and didn't want her to be hurt). The other side of the coin is that nearly all men who abuse or otherwise hurt women deny the allegations.
Field writes in detail about her acting gigs, including in TV shows such as "Gidget," "Sybil," "The Flying Nun," and "Brothers and Sisters," and film roles in "Norma Rae," "Steel Magnolias," "Smokey and the Bandit," "Mrs. Doubtfire," and Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," to name a few. Even Field herself did not believe that she deserved all the critical acclaim and the awards, and those around her, particularly Reynolds, tended to dismiss her achievements.
Field is taking flack for writing a sob story, portraying quite a few individuals negatively, and not being grateful for her successes. Women, by and large, have received the book warmly and are thankful for Field's courage and contribution to advancing the #MeToo movement.
Field's writing is splendid, but her tone is at times too negative. Perhaps writing this book was her way of dealing with her past and putting to rest her personal demons. As a reader/listener, I felt that Field did not share enough of her fortunes and happy life events and too much of her miseries. In fairness, though, writing a memoir is a highly personal undertaking and one should cut the writer some slack. This ultra-sad book may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you are a Sally Field fan, it is a must for you.

2019/01/07 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources: Photo 1 Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources: Photo 2 Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources: Photo 3 Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources: Photo 4 Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources: Photo 5 Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources: Photo 6 (1) Continuing with the Iran theme today: Mouthwatering selections of Iranian cuisine from Internet sources.
(2) Good news amid political turmoil: The US Senate has confirmed Kelvin Droegemeier, a respected extreme-weather expert, as the White House's top science and technology adviser.
(3) UK's Government Communications Headquarters has created a competition for 12- and 13-year-old girls, aimed at drawing more women into cybersecurity-related professions.
(4) Ayatollah Yazdi claims that Iran has made 400 years' worth of progress in the last 40 years: Given that all of our presidents are now deemed deviant and traitorous, could you please specify when this immense progress was made? [Question asked in this Persian-language tweet]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump firm on border wall, offers steel option as compromise: If this doesn't work, he'll go to china option!
- Memes of the day: On Trump's wall, government shutdown, women's rights, and authoritarianism. [Memes]
- Golden Globes 2019: Here is CNN's complete list of the winners, organized by categories.
- CBS News taps producer Susan Zirinsky as its first-ever female president.
- Periodic table turns 150: Its genius aided understanding and facilitated discovery of many new elements.
- For history buffs: Thousands of Ottoman-Era photographs have been digitized and made available on-line.
- Twitter user encourages Iranians to take to the streets with their musical instruments to beautify cities.
(6) If building a border wall, which was Trump's promise and priority form Day 1, is such an emergency, why wasn't it funded over the past two years by the Republican House and Senate?
(7) All four living ex-presidents deny they privately told Trump that they support his border wall: Gee, I don't know whether to believe the real-estate developer with multiple bankruptcies in his past, concealed tax returns, thousands of documented/cataloged lies in two years of presidency, and multiple ongoing criminal investigations, or four former presidents who are gaining more respect with the passing of each day!

2019/01/06 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Historical photos of Iran's cities: Isfahan's 33-Pol Historical photos of Iran's cities: Mashhad Historical photos of Iran's cities: Tehran's Fouzieh Square (1) Historical photos of Iran: [Left] Isfahan's 33-Pol. [Center] Mashhad. [Right] Tehran's Fouzieh Square.
(2) Quote of the day: "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic." ~ President John F. Kennedy
(3) The lies are getting bolder and more bizarre: Trump claims that certain former presidents support his idea of a wall! Not even his closest staffer, Mick Mulvany, can back up his claim.
(4) Saudi women, rejoice! Now, when your husband divorces you, you'll get a text message notifying you of your new status. Aren't you thankful for Crown Prince MBS's reforms?
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- If this madness doesn't stop soon, we'll have to worry about immigration out of the US, not into it!
- The alt-reality of Fox News: Trump not sticking to his guns on border wall will leave the GOP demoralized.
- President foul-mouth finds his words, when spoken by someone else, dishonorable and disrespectful.
- Meme of the day: All of a sudden Republicans are sensitive to the use of crass language! [Meme]
- To share or not to share: That is the question! [3-minute video]
- Turkish music: Based on a traditional Iranian folk song. [3-minute video]
- My Saturday walk on Coal Oil Point Beach in Goleta, during last couple of dry hours before 2 days of rain.
(6) Persian poetry: Mostafa Badkoobei is known for his fiery, patriotic poems. In this video, he recites one of his better-known poems, admonishing the country's rulers for abandoning Iranian history and values in favor of a pan-Islamic view that favors Lebanon and Palestine, to the detriment of our fellow countrymen.
(7) Quantum error-correcting codes (QECCs): ECCs are used as a matter of course to protect digital data from corruption. If a 0 accidentally changes to 1 due to a physical defect or logical fault, use of an ECC allows us to restore the bit to its correct value and continue our computation undisturbed. Quantum bits are much more fragile than ordinary bits, so they need ECCs even more, if we are to build reliable quantum computers. Now, in a stunning development, scientists have concluded that the robustness of spacetime may come from some sort of QECC. This development may pave the way for further advances in both quantum computing and quantum gravity research.
(8) Final thought for the day: Government shutdown does not just affect the 800,000 unpaid federal workers. Many millions are impacted by lack of access to National Parks, laxer security and longer lines at airports, and delayed tax processing and refunds, to name just a few.

2019/01/04 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Historical photos of Iran's old-time music celebrities: Marzieh, Morteza Mahjoubi, Adib Khansari Historical photos of Iran's old-time music celebrities: Toofan, Neli, Sattar, Naser Cheshm-Azar Historical photos of Iran's old-time music celebrities: Pouran, Viguen, Googoosh (1) Historical photos of Iran's old-time music celebrities (named from left to right): [Left] Marzieh, Morteza Mahjoubi, Adib Khansari. [Center] Toofan, Neli, Sattar, Naser Cheshm-Azar. [Right] Pouran, Viguen, Googoosh.
(2) Yes, this is just what our country needs right now: A president who is doing Russia's bidding and a Senate that thinks it is serving Trump, not America! The Congress must express its independent opinion.
(3) Where Trump get his bizarre conspiracy theories: Watch this insightful analysis by Rachel Maddow to find out. "Several of Trump's foreign policy talking points since taking office have appeared to directly parrot propaganda and fake news originally put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin's government."
(4) The US ayatollahs mimic their Iranian counterparts in criticizing Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for having danced on a rooftop in college. But they are okay with a private-parts-grabbing president!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Beautiful flowers to brighten your Friday amid grim economic and government-shutdown reports. [Photos]
- CBS's "60 Minutes" to air interview with President Sisi, over strong objection from Egypt's government.
- Larry Roberts, who as a manager at ARPA oversaw the development of Internet's first iteration, dead at 81.
- Seven dead in fiery multi-vehicle Florida crash, including 5 children who were headed to Disney World.
- The Pridrangaviti Lighthouse is precariously perched on a rock pillar in Iceland's Westman Islands. [Photo]
- UCLA Bilingual Lectures on Iran: Sun. 1/13 (4:00 PM, Dodd 121) and Mon. 1/14 (2:00 PM, Bunche 10838).
(6) Iranian female chess player Sarasadat Khademalsharieh emerges as the overall champion in blitz and lightning chess. Here is the YouTube video of one of her matches.
(7) A new balance of power in Washington: It used to be Donald Trump and his stooge Mitch McConnell, with Paul Ryan largely absent from the scene in recent months. Now, it's Trump and Nancy Pelosi, with McConnell gone into hiding, and Trump is clearly unhappy to cede one-half of the spotlight. [Photos]
(8) Dr. Jedidah Isler: A black woman who pursued a PhD in astrophysics and now wants to help colored people like her overcome obstacles en route to their STEM passions. [Part of NPR's "Brief but Spectacular" series]
(9) [Final thought for the day] Manifesto for a simple life: Eat less, move more. Buy less, make more. Stress less, laugh more. Feel blessed, love more. Find a quiet spot every day and just breathe.

2019/01/03 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Map of Isla Vista and UCSB, including Main and West Campus areas (1) Map of UCSB and Isla Vista: I took this photo of a map at the University Center. The main campus is on the right, and Harold Frank Hall (the former Engineering I Building), where the ECE Department and my office are located, is near the right/east edge of the campus. Isla Vista, with its street network, is center-left on the map. UCSB West Campus, on the left/west of the map, holds the Faculty Housing complex, where my home is located. My walking path to the campus goes roughly across the center of the map, about 1 mile within Isla Vista and 1 mile inside the campus. The map is a few years old, so it doesn't show some of the latest additions to the campus, including new student housing along El Colegio and on both sides of Storke Road. The former Devereux School on the left edge of the map is now part of UCSB, as is the area known as North Campus (a former golf course and its surrounding land), located to the north of West Campus, along Storke Road. The map inset shows the relationship of the campus to US 101, Highway 217, and Santa Barbara Airport.
(2) The far side of the moon has never been examined up close: That will change with the announced soft-landing of the Chinese spacecraft Chang'e 4, which has begun transmitting photos.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- No, Donald, you wouldn't make a good general if you were judged medically unfit to serve in the military.
- Trump disses Mitt Romney for losing in 2012, and hears about it from the husband of an ardent supporter.
- Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinkes handwritten resignation note ridiculed. [Tweet]
- US stocks slide again, as Apple shares falter: At closing, DJIA was 660 points down.
- Islamic Iran: Isn't it sad that this talented girl has to dance on the street because of lack of opportunities?
- The rock band Metallica donates $1 million to 10 cummunity colleges for trade skill education.
- The Women's March is coming on Sat. 1/19: Santa Barbara's De La Guerra Plaza, beginning at 11:30 AM.
- A few puzzles, from the January-February 2019 issue of IEEE Potentials. [Image]
- Iranian music: A beautiful Azeri love song, performed by old-time singers Aref and Yaghoub Zoroofchi.
(4) Iran's Minister of Communications: "Today, we announce that in the infrastructure for our National Information Network, no American product will be used." [Good for you, sir, but your statement would have been a lot more believable without that McBook in front of you!] [Image]

2019/01/02 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Late-afternoon walk on January 1, 2019: Photo 1 Late-afternoon walk on January 1, 2019: Photo 2 Late-afternoon walk on January 1, 2019: Photo 3 (1) During yesterday's late-afternoon walk, I snapped photos of the very colorful sunset and what might be a missile launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base to the north. A blue patch of the ocean is visible in one photo.
(2) NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flies by the most-distant known object in the Solar System, some 4 billion miles away, and sends back images to Earth, the planet it left 12 years ago.
(3) What an amazing year for women! Yes, there were some setbacks, but the courage shown by women will bear fruit for many years to come. #TimesUp #MeToo [Tweet]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Tonight is Perihelion: Celebrate, and go find an astrophysicist on the street to dance with! [Tweet]
- The US government shutdown begins to impact scientific research in labs and field sites across the world.
- US National Parks suffer from government shutdown, as visitors turn roads into dumps and toilets.
- Science could have seen far greater progress if it had not dismissed women as intellectually inferior.
- Kurdish and Persian music: Samples of performances by Sheno Ensemble. [5-minute video]
- Fondly remembering our former First Couple and their humanity, 2 years after they left the White House.
- Interesting shots taken on a deserted UCSB campus, whose winter 2019 classes will start on Monday 1/07.
- Persian music: Performed at a soccer match (pre-game or half-time) in Tajikistan. [4-minute video]
- Persian music: Beautiful rhythmic piece, performed masterfully on piano/violin/tonbak. [6-minute video]
- Persian music: A spiritual piece, featuring a poem by Mowlavi (Rumi). [3-minute video] [Poem/Lyrics]
(5) Taking credit and blame: The markets have tanked, so Trump doesn't say a word about them. But gas prices have come down, so Trump immediately takes credit. According to GasBuddy, "2019 sets the stage for the first decline in the yearly national average since 2015, but before motorists drive for joy, it may be prudent to remind them that 2019 will still be the second most expensive year to fill up since then."
(6) Mitt Romney, the flip-flopper: First he stood next to Trump at the Trump Hotel and thanked him for his support. Then, he called Trump a con man and much worse during the 2016 campaign. Next, he had an intimate dinner with Trump as a short-list candidate for the job of Secretary of State. When he wasn't chosen, he began criticizing Trump again. Later, he accepted Trump's support gratefully, as he began to run for a Senate seat from Utah. Most recently, he wrote an op ed against Trump a couple of days before beginning his service as a Senator. Which Mitt Romney will show up at the Senate?
(7) What First Amendment? Netflix removes episode of "Patriot Act with Hasan Mihaj" from its service in Saudi Arabia after the Saudis objected to the comedian's comments about the country and MBS in connection with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

2019/01/01 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A very happy new year to everyone! My drawing from memory of my family's residence and its environs, 1952-1955 Welcome to 2019! Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous 2019 (1) Reigning in the new year: [Left & Right] A very happy new year to everyone! Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous 2019. An impressive calligraphic rendering of "Happy New Year." [Center] My drawing from memory of my family's 1950s residence and its environs near Tabriz railway station (see item 2 below).
(2) Some memories from about 65 years ago: My family (dad, mom, and sister Behnaz) lived in Tabriz, Iran, for about 3 years (1952-1955). My father worked as an engineer with the National Railroad Organization and, after a couple of years in Bandar Shah on the Caspian shore and a short stint in Tehran, was reassigned to Tabriz. In those days, the Tehran-Tabriz train track had not yet been completed, so we took the train (which was of course complimentary for us) to Mianeh and rode a bus from Mianeh to Tabriz.
The railway station and the Russian-standard track that led from it to the northern border town of Julfa were leftover relics from the Russian occupation of the 1910s. We lived very close to the majestic railway station, in a government-owned house, with a nice yard in front of it. There were other houses around us, a dirt soccer field nearby, and an elementary school just beyond the field (see the diagram I have drawn from memory).
I was 5.5 years old when I started first grade and attended that school until third grade. The school principal was reluctant to admit me at first, given my age, but agreed to give me a chance after administering a test. I walked to school through the soccer field daily, at times stopping to watch the youth playing or practicing there. On occasion, I spent time at the fruit and vegetables patch across the road from my school (bearing mostly melons, tomatoes, zucchini, and other vegis) and among the dry, dusty olive trees.
This is pretty much the extent of my recollection from those years. The memories were rekindled when, recently, I engaged in a conversation with a college buddy about Tabriz, its railway station, and routes served by trains. I have also dug up some images from Wikipedia and elsewhere for inclusion in this post.
Note 1: This old image shows the arrival of the first Russian train in Tabriz, with the ceremony attended by Crown Prince Mohammad Hassan Mirza, local authorities, Russian officers, and railway workers.
Note 2: Tabriz's century-old train station was inscribed on National Heritage List, thanks to its place in Iran's railroad history.
Note 3: "The Proposed Connection of the Russian and Indian Railway Systems" (1917 article, published in Geographical Review).
Note 4: The July 27, 1917, issue of Railway Age Gazette indicates that the Tabriz-Julfa railway, with its branch from Sofian to Sharafkhaneh on Lake Urumiah, was completed mid-1917.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump's year-end melt-down on 12/31/2018 led to a collection of confusing and contradictory tweets.
- I achieved the goal of emptying my e-mail in-box before the end of 2018, with more than an hour to spare!
- I am fascinated with numbers and their attributes: Sad to report that the number 2019 is very unspecial!
- Some prediction for 2019: Trump will go, and other cases of wishful thinking!
- One year after their announcements, US and Israel formally quit UNESCO, citing its anti-Israel bias.
- This is the 10-foot wall around the Obamas' compound in DC, according to Trump's very active imagination.
- The three women at the top of this image have made social-media posts about Michelle Obama being ugly!
(4) Today is Public Domain Day: Tens of thousands of published works have been released from their copyright shackles. "These works dating from 1923 were supposed to become part of the public domain in 1998 (after the statutory 75 years), but in that year, Disney and other powerful copyright holders successfully lobbied Congress to extend copyright restrictions another 20 years. This way, Disney postponed the lapse of copyright on its biggest icon, Mickey Mouse."
(5) New authoritarians are waging war on women: The common denominator among the anti-democratic movements across the globe is hostility toward women and a longing to reverse decades of feminist gains.

Blog Entries for 2018

2018 bonus year-end posts: A way of clearing my backlog of posts before entering the new year 2019.
Holiday decorations at my home-office (1) A year-end wish: As we end 2018 and look past the gloom and doom predictions to 2019, may your final day of this year be filled with peace and joy, and may the new year bring you much hope, health, happiness, and success.
(2) Humorous Persian poem: The anonymous poet makes fun of the fact that amid major sociopolitical problems and rampant corruption, a customs official insulting a parliament member is being treated as a most-important crisis.
(3) Erasing women: VR fashion show goes to Iran, albeit with severe limitations on the virtual models and their clothing. Is this progress or caving in to patriarchal views?
(4) Quote of the day: "We all, everyone in uniform, we took an oath; we took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution. And embedded within that Constitution is an idea, and it's an idea that says you and I, no matter whether you're male or female, gay or straight or anything else, whether you're black or you're white or whether you're Protestant or you're Catholic or you're Jew or you're Muslim or you don't believe at all, it doesn't matter if you're rich or poor or famous—it doesn't matter. None of that matters." ~ Army General Mark Milley, who awaits Senate confirmation as the new Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump's easy ride is coming to an end in 2019: And he's not thrilled that a woman will make his ride bumpy.
- The murky Washington 'Swamp' remains undrained, as we head into 2019.
- Fake porn: An unfortunate new way to use technology for harassing women. [#TimesUp]
- The Azeri song "Sari Galin," performed on udu hang instrument. [1-minute video]
- Regional folk music from Iran: This popular oldie is from the Caspian-region province of Guilan.
- Persian music: The song "Beh Sooy-e To" ("Toward You"), accompanied by scenes from Tehran of Yore.
(6) A rape victim's story: I apologize for bringing up this grim subject during the festive holiday season, but having encountered a year-old story on my Twitter feed a couple of days ago, I thought I should share it. It isn't an exaggeration to say that our society's rape culture will not change until men learn to see the problem from a woman's perspective. So, my post is aimed primarily at my male readers, but women too may learn something from it. Here is the article's concluding paragraph: "There is a growing dialogue in America about the prevalence of sexual violence—just look at the #metoo movement. But we haven't discussed the complicated impact of sexual violence on individuals in a widespread, meaningful conversation. It's time to start having those conversations."
(7) Why do engineers often wear short sleeves? According to Henry Petroski, writing in the December 2018 issue of ASEE Prism, "In the days of hand drawings, engineers took to wearing short-sleeve shirts because long sleeves and cuffs would have been blackened by graphite dust." Hence, "casual Friday" every day!
(8) "Promoting Common Sense, Reality, Dependable Engineering": This is the title given by Communications of the ACM (Vol. 61, No. 12, pp. 128-127, December 2018) to an interview with Peter G. Neumann, the long-serving guru of the risks to the public of poorly designed computer systems. I use items from "Risks Forum", which he moderates, in my graduate course on fault-tolerant computing and highly recommend the interview and his Forum to anyone who is worried about the risks of computer systems.
(9) Trump stands up for Saudi Arabian values: This is the title of a scathing New York Times editorial from November 20, 2018, which critizes Trump for not even paying lip service to freedom of the press after the abhorrent murder of Jamal Khashoggi by a hit squad sent to Turkey by the Saudi regime.

2018/12/31 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Oregon's monster mushroom: The world's largest living organism is 2400 years old Humorous Persian poem by B. Parhami, entitled 'Whatever Previously Existed in Iran Should Go' Can we retire the term 'the weaker sex' already? (1) Miscellaneous images: [Left] Oregon's monster mushroom: The world's largest living organism is 2400 years old. (The mushroom photo is fake and the enourmous fungus, which is real and covers several square miles, lives under the ground. Pretty good idea for a tourist monument on the site, though!) [Center] My humorous Persian poem (see item 2 below). [Right] Can we retire the term "the weaker sex" already?
(2) A humorous Persian poem: I had kept this poem of mine, composed a few months after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and titled "Whatever Previously Existed in Iran Should Go," under wraps until now (see the middle image above). It is written from the vantage point of Khomeini, who was opposed to many symbols of Iran's 1970s culture and wanted them gone. Make sure to read the final rhyming word of each verse as "Berah," the way Khomeini would have pronounced it. Enjoy! The poem's image is from a page of my diary/calendar for 1980 (1358 in Iranian calendar), which I rediscovered a week or so ago. There are other poems and notes in that calendar, which I will share over time. Here is a 2-minute video in which I recite the 4-decade-old poem.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Jim Mattis sends farewell letter to Department of Defense personnel on his last day as Secretary of Defense.
- Mitch McConnell has gone into total hiding, despite his central role in the ongoing government shutdown.
- Peter King praises ICE for having only two kids die in custody, and hears about it from Chelsea Clinton.
- Several US newspapers victimized by what they suspect to be a foreign malware attack.
- Teen boy, 16, is set to graduate from a Kansas high school and, days later, from Harvard University.
- Not for the faint-hearted: Aerial videos of mind-numbing places and some daring photographers.
- On mergers: "Soon there'll be only 2 US companies left, AppleZon and GoldmanGoogleMart." ~ Bill Maher
- Fusion music: "Jingle Bells," Persian style [1-minute video], and belly/dance tango [3-minute video].
(4) Holiday mystery: A hush-hush case relating to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has reached the US Supreme Court and is getting personal attention from Chief Justice John Roberts. "The dry issues involved matters of jurisdiction and statutory interpretation fathomed only by elite appellate lawyers, but the potentially juicier underlying issues hinted of fascination: somewhere, a corporation (a bank? a communications firm? an energy company?) owned by a foreign state (Russia? Turkey? Ukraine? United Arab Emirates? Saudi Arabia?) had engaged in transactions that had an impact in the United States and on matters involved in the special counsel's investigation."
(5) In an interview everyone knew would be coming, John Kelly says he should be judged not by what Trump did but by what didn't get done during his tenure as Chief of Staff.
(6) Trump lies again about the FBI deleting 19,000 text messages: He apparently did not read or wasn't briefed on a report from his own administration that the messages were temporarily lost to a technical glitch and that they have since been fully recovered.
(7) Today in history: US President Carter lauds the Shah and characterizes Iran as "an island of stability" 41 years ago today, a little over one year before the Islamic Revolution.
(8) When there is incontrovertible evidence in support of a hypothesis, you shouldn't treat it as a "both sides" issue: There is no credible "other side" for the hypothesis that the Earth is round. Kudos to NBC for finally deciding not to give equal time to climate-change deniers.

2018/12/30 (Sunday): Today's blog post contains a book introduction and two brief book reviews.
Cover image for the book 'The Data Center as a Computer' Cover image for Stuart Gibbs' 'Spy School' Cover image for Reese Witherspoon's 'Whiskey in a Teacup' (1) Book introduction: Parallel processing has entered the age of warehouse-scale machines, where the computer is a large collection of servers, connected by a data-center network. This book, authored by three Google researchers as part of the series "Synthesis Lectures in Computer Architecture," explains the concepts in its 2019 third edition. The 2013 second edition is available on-line.
[Citation: Barroso, Luiz Andre, Urs Holzle, and Parthasarathy Ranganathan, The Data Center as a Computer: Designing Warehouse-Scale Machines, Morgan & Caypool, 3rd ed., 2019.]
(2) Book review: Gibbs, Stuart, Spy School, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Gibson Frazier, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
In this first book of the "Spy School" series, seemingly targeted at pre-teens, Gibbs introduces us to Ben Ripley, an awkward, nerdy middle-school boy who is recruited for a prestigious science school, which turns out to be a front for a junior CIA academy. He sees this lucky turn of events as a cure-all for his perceived lack of coolness and inattention from his beautiful crush. Ben isn't really the James Bond type, but he tries his best to become an undercover agent, and does perform as a halfway-decent spy through a series of misadventures. A fun story, which is surprisingly well-conceived and nicely written, given its target audience.
(3) Book review: Witherspoon, Reese, Whiskey in a Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love & Baking Biscuits, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2018.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Early on, Witherspoon, CEO of a company that produces films and TV shows with strong female leads, tells us that "whiskey in a teacup" is a metaphor for southern women: Delicate and pretty on the outside, strong on the inside. The audiobook, which is rather short to begin with, is light on life events and rich on lifestyle, and it comes with a PDF file containing recipes, among other symbols of the South. Witherspoon is proud of her Southern heritage and enjoys playing in films about the South, where she can use her natural accent.
Witherspoon's bubbly personality shows, both in the writing and in the reading of her work. She fawns over Dolly Parton ("the ultimate Southern icon"), Kate Middleton, and Patsy Cline. She writes at length about the beauty of Southern female friendships and the importance of beauty-shop politics, party-hosting, baking, feeding and entertaining guests, and gift-giving (she prefers cakes over flowers, because they are more practical and don't go to waste).
Witherspoon is a big fan of monograms and has many tips on properly dressing for various occasions (never go on a plane in sweatpants), make-up (she went to a beauty school), and acting (watch "Steel Magnolias").
This is no literary memoir, but it's a fun read/listen, particularly for fans of the Oscar-winning actress.

2018/12/29 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mini-reunion of class-of-1968 EE/ME graduates of Tehran University's Faculty of Engineering (1) Mini-reunion of class-of-1968 EE/ME graduates of Tehran University's Faculty of Engineering: On Thursday night, I saw three college buddies (Faramarz Davarian, Javad Peyrovian, Yousef Salimpour, right to left with me in the photo), their spouses, and a couple of other family members. Yousef is visiting from France and Faramarz generously hosted the dinner gathering. A memorable night indeed! [Three of these four classmates (all but Javad) had also been present at a much larger 50th-anniversary reunion in Yerevan, Armenia, this past July.]
(2) Quote of the day: "The president boasting about the dangers he'd faced, and [John] Bolton was a brave man to go with him. God, he's talking to special operations soldiers in Iraq, it's sort of embarrassing." ~ Retired General Barry McCaffrey, criticizing Trump's politicized, dishonest, and boastful visit to the US troops in Iraq [Newsweek story]
(3) Image manipulation: The same technology that gives us better entertainment can be used in the service of spreading disinformation. Here's the process of creating a video of anyone saying/doing anything we want.
(4) Toddler-in-Chief vents: Trump continues to attack NAFTA (which has already been replaced by his USMCA) and threatens to completely close the US border with Mexico if Democrats do not agree to fund his wall.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Political brawls and revelations about illegal activities by those around Trump will extend into 2019.
- Saudi student awaiting trial for murder in Oregon flees the US on a private jet, despite having no passport.
- Two super-rich Saudi families become citizens of Malta by purchasing 62 of the EU member's passports.
- Fire-ravaged Brazil National Museum lives on through Google, which is helping via a virtual exhibition.
- New proof of a 25-year-old claim that quantum computers are way more powerful than classical devices.
- A tantalizing question: Is the Church-Turing Thesis the logical limit or a breachable barrier? [CACM article]
- A beautiful Azeri dance: Quite complicated and physically challenging! [1-minute video]
- Topical images for the season: Migrants ahead; Weight-gain saving time; Winter (in Norway); Resolutions.
(6) How a slime-mold amoeba found an entirely new way of solving the challenging "traveling salesperson" problem: Even though the amoeba used by Keio University researchers is extremely slow in its solution method, as the problem size increases, its processing time grows only linearly, not exponentially, which is the case for conventional algorithms. [Video]
(7) The ongoing debate on the (in)compatibility of science and religion: This is a vast area of disagreement and conflicting opinions. Lately, arguments that science and religion are not only compatible, but they can actually help each other have proliferated. In this article, biologist Jerry Coyne argues that "accomodationism" is misguided and that science and religion constitute incompatible ways of viewing the world.

2018/12/28 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine's 1968 Persons of the Year (Apollo 8 moon-orbiting astronauts, famous for their Earthrise photo, from left, Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman), reunite after 50 years (1) Time magazine's 1968 Persons of the Year (Apollo 8 moon-orbiting astronauts, famous for their Earthrise photo, from left, Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman), reunite after 50 years.
(2) The year when scams proliferated is coming to an end: What have we learned? The story in this article begins with a con artist, a young black woman, who collected lots of money through GoFundMe to make a political statement (she has since returned the contributions).
(3) Some pricing algorithms may be illegal: Examining the potential and consequences of using algorithm-based pricing. [Communications of the ACM Law and Technology column, January 2019]
(4) T-shirt for young Iranians, who are tired of family members and acquaintances asking them about their GPA, when they'll get married, how much they earn, and other very private questions! [Photo]
(5) New mercenary jobs: If certain 0.1-percenters close to the Trump administration have their way, not only the postal service, universities, prisons, and healthcare but also waging of wars will be fully privatized.
(6) Soldier-less wars of the future: Fighting wars with robots may appear to be a positive development, but further reflection reveals at least two problems. First, casualties suffered by invading forces is one of the major deterrents of starting new wars, particularly in the case of the US and other industrialized countries. Second, civilian casualties will not be eliminated, and may in fact increase, because robotic-army leaders will be highly incentivized to kill anyone coming near an expensive robot which contains classified equipment and technology. [Cover image, E&T magazine, issue of December 2018 and January 2019]
(7) STEM education in Canada and California: By offering free 2-day workshops to introduce young girls to programming, the Canadian nonprofit Hackergal aims to influence female students' selection of CS as a high-school elective or career. California Education Learning Lab, established in 2018 by Assembly Bill 1809, is a competitive grant-making program for faculty teams to incorporate science and adaptive learning technology into curricula and pedagogy, so as to improve learning outcomes and close equity and achievement gaps. Here is an introduction to the Lab by its Director, Lark Park, and here is its RFP #1, 2018-2019.
(8) The enigma of street musicians in Iran: Certain kinds of music is disallowed, singing by women is prohibited, performances require government permits. Yet, Iranians are defiant in entertaining with music and supporting street performers. The happy part is the impact of beautiful music on people's dispositions, as they go about their daily lives. The sad part is such talented individuals having to take risks to make ends meet. I am in awe of the talent and the determination to preserve Iran's musical heritage in the face of shortsighted rulers who want to wipe smiles off people's faces. [Sample street music]
(9) Working hard to accomplish the goal of an empty e-mail in-box by New Year's Eve: It is down to 5 items!

2018/12/27 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Trump cartoons for the holidays: 1 of 3 Trump cartoons for the holidays: 2 of 3 Trump cartoons for the holidays: 3 of 3 (1) Trump cartoons: A three-pack for the holidays! [A fourth, bonus, cartoon is included in this package.]
(2) The Liar-in-Chief lies even to the troops: He brags about giving them a 10% pay raise, after years of stagnant wages. The troops in fact got a pay raise in each of the last 10 years. The 2019 pay raise will be 2.6%, only slightly above the 2.4% they got last year. Here is Newsweek's version of Trump's first set of lies ever, told inside Iraq!
(3) An apt reminder of a stellar record of service to the US: "Today, as we stand here together on this, the darkest of days, we renew that bond. We remember the light these individuals brought to each of you here today. We renew our efforts to bring justice down on those who seek to harm us. We renew our efforts to keep our people safe, and to rid the world of terrorism. We will continue to move forward. But we will never forget." ~ Robert Mueller, 30 years ago on Winter Solstice, as he began his quest to solve the mystery of Pan Am Flight 103 and bring the culprits to justice
(4) Book review: Garrels, Anne, Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia, unabridged audiobook on 7 CDs, read by the author, HighBridge Audio, 2016 [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image for Anne Garrels' 'Putin Country' Most of us never see the real Russia. Even those of us who get to travel to the vast country see only what is intended for tourists to see. In this book, foreign correspondent Anne Garrels shows us Russia's well-hidden parts: Its bizarre economy, its social divide between Moscow's elite and the urban/rural poor, and its widespread corruption. Garrels writes that to decide which part of Russia to explore, she took a map of the country and threw a pencil at it, which landed on Chelyabinsk, not far from the Ural Mountains, near the European border.
With a population of just over 1 million, Chelyabinsk is perhaps best-known for the 2013 meteor exploding at an altitude of about 27 km, generating a shock wave that injured over 1000 people. Garrels has been going to Chelyabinsk for over 20 years, so as to explore the area and its people in depth. The area was closed to foreigners during the Soviet era, given its military and industrial make-up, including two mysterious "nuclear cities," which are still out of bounds to everyone.
Garrels covers the harsh experiences of the region in the 1990s, as industries were privatized under Boris Yeltsin, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Workers were not being paid and they had to improvise by selling vegetables from their gardens or traveling to China to buy cheap goods, to cite just two examples.
Putin became popular by talking about Russia's greatness, and by promising to enrich the impoverished country and bringing about stability. Given how low the economy had sunk, it wasn't difficult to bring about steady improvements. However, corruption is still a big problem and there does not seem to be an end in sight for it, given that nurturing and protecting families depends on it. No part of the Russian society, from goods-procurement to higher education, is immune from such corruption.
Garrels received a visit from Russia's security agency one early morning, was taken in for questioning, and told to leave the country immediately, with no explanation (she had previously been expelled as an ABC correspondent under Soviet rule in 1982). She was later allowed back in and continued her observations, but now, people were more cautious in their interactions with her.
For those who want to gain in-depth knowledge of a small part of Russia, this is a great read. For others, Garrels' NPR interview about her book (podcast and transcript) is a more-efficient substitute.

2018/12/26 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The ship that, at the end of 1899, was in two different days of the week, two different months, two different seasons, and two different centuries Heart-wrenching violence against women: The attitude that men own women ('If I can't have you, nobody else can') is alive and well in Iran, and the authorities pay only lip service to fixing the problem Berlin wall being knocked down (1) Miscellaneous images: [Left] Hard to believe, but true: The story of the ship that, at the end of 1899, was in two different days of the week, two different months, two different seasons, and two different centuries. [Center] Heart-wrenching violence against women: The attitude that men own women ("If I can't have you, nobody else can") is alive and well in Iran, and the authorities pay only lip service to fixing the problem. (#MasoumehJalilpour) [Right] Berlin Wall, redux: Wouldn't it be ironic if Trump's Wall were built and, in some future year, people gathered to knock it down as they celebrated?
(2) Real-time face-capture technology: The January 2019 issue of Communications of the ACM features the technology in its cover feature. While the development is technically quite exciting, it leads to the easy production of fake videos that are nearly indistinguishable from real ones. The image in front on the cover is generated by combining the other two images. More examples of facial reenactments, where mouth and lip configurations are superimposed from one input video to another video, appear in this image from page 102.
(3) Former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sends a Christmas message to the world: Or is this one of those fake videos made with the new face-capture technology? [See item (2) above]
(4) Trump's latest whopper, about the government shut-down and out-of-work federal workers: "Many of those workers have said to me ... 'stay out until you get the funding for the wall.'"
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Happy Kwanzaa! Celebrating the African diaspora, Kwanzaa means "first fruits of the harvest" in Swahili.
- Ten die in bus accident on a mountainous road within an Iran Azad University campus.
- US markets rebound, but investors are wary of additional losses: Monday's 2-3% loss was reversed by noon.
- Musical Christmas wish, somewhere in Los Angeles. [Photo]
- Putin's allies float the idea of constitutional changes to circumvent term limits for the 2-term President.
- History in pictures: A man and his dog at Yosemite National Park, 1924. [Photo]
(6) US Senator Susan Collin is no feminist: She could have quietly endorsed Brett Kavanaugh, but instead, she chose to deliver a 45-minute holier-than-thou lecture, sugar-coating her anti-feminist vote with feminist lingo and the many survivor stories she had heard. Her endorsement was a calculated move to win back the Republican support she had lost in voting against the repeal of Obamacare.
(7) How Europe deals with hi-tech competition from China: EU has approved plans from France, Germany, Italy, and the UK to fund up to $9.1 billion (8 billion euros) in microelectronics research.
(8) Gerald Ford [1913-2006], the 38th US president, died 12 years ago, today: He became US president when Richard Nixon resigned a year into his second term. Dubbed "the accidental president," Ford replaced VP Spiro Agnew when he was forced to resign. So, he was never elected to vice-presidency or presidency.

2018/12/25 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Trump is like a horse or elephant in a street parade: He needs a clean-up crew to pick up the mess after him! Trump and his GOP enablers: Someday, these two stooges and others will have to explain their behavior to the American people Trump and his indicted and/or racist sidekicks (1) Trump-related images, captured from Seth Myeres' recurring late-night-show segment "A Closer Look": [Left] Trump is like a horse or elephant in a street parade: He needs a clean-up crew to pick up the mess after him! [Center] Trump and his GOP enablers: Someday, these two stooges and others will have to explain their behavior to the American people. [Right] Trump and his indicted and/or racist co-conspirators.
(2) Archaeology: A Persian military camp, that may have been used as a base camp by King Cambyses in his all-out attack on Egypt more than 2500 years ago, has been unearthed in northern Israel.
(3) What I did on a windy, but gorgeous, Christmas Day in Goleta: My older son, my daughter, and I went to Ming Dynasty for a traditional Jewish Christmas-Day lunch! Two years ago, my second son was with us also. After our buffet lunch, a long walk was called for, so we went to the recently restored UCSB North Campus Open Space and, from there, to the beach and back.
(4) Trump plans to complete the border wall by Election Day 2020: Iranians have a saying for every occasion. The appropriate one here is, "The man was banned from entering a village, he was asking for directions to the mayor's house." [Read it in Persian] In English, we have, "Learn to walk before you run."
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump on Dems' oversight in 2019: It's harassment, and "I know how to handle that better than anybody."
- Let's pass this law: Government shutdown means that salaries and services at the WH and Congress are cut.
- And now for something different this Christmas Day: Belly dancing to Jingle Bells.
- This is how giant ships are launched: Usually, sideways, not lengthwise! [11-minute video]
(6) Interesting debate on Sunday's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" program: "Many people are hoping 2019 will be a better year for the world. But is it possible 2018 was actually the best year ever?" Steven Pinker, psychology professor at Harvard and the persistent optimist who thinks we live in the best of times, debated Niall Ferguson, senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, who represented a pessimistic view that we must not lose sight of black-swan events (major wars and the like) amid generally improving conditions. [Teaser]
[I have not found a full video of this must-see debate; I will post the video if and when it becomes available.]
(7) Final thought for the day: "The danger with hatred is, once you start in on it, you get a hundred times more than you bargained for. Once you start, you can't stop." ~ Philip Roth

2018/12/24 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Bill Gates thanks his Secret Santa for making a charity donation in his name George H. W. Bush and the child he secretly sponsored Former President Barack Obama plays Santa to kids in a children's hospital (1) Charitable leaders: [Left] Bill Gates thanks his Secret Santa for making a charity donation in his name. [Center] George H. W. Bush secretly sponsored a child in the Philippines and served as his pen pal for years. [Right] Former President Barack Obama plays Santa to kids in a children's hospital.
(2) A very happy holiday season and new year to you! May you enjoy the Christmas break with your loved ones and may the United States of America get back on course from its current nose-dive into fake greatness.
(3) US stocks fell another 2-3% in today's shortened trading session: Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 653 points, smashing a 100-year-old record dating back to Christmas Eve 1918. [Chart]
(4) In Sydney, Australia, if you use your cell phone while driving, they will take your picture and fine you, much like the use of remotely-operated cameras at intersections to catch those who run red lights.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Canada experiences immigration explosion in tech specialists: Rise of 83% to 538% in various categories.
- The impactful return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park: A fascinating segment in CBS's "60 Minutes."
- Trump: I've done more damage to ISIS than all recent presidents...! Twitter reader: Hey, you misspelled USA!
- Vanity Fair headline: The Terrifying Paradox in Trump's War on Everything. [Photo]
- James Cordern, Emily Blunt, and Lin-Manuel Miranda perform segments from 22 musicals in 12 minutes.
- A most-impressive example of shadow-dancing. [Video]
- Beautiful music from Iran's Caspian-Sea region: Guilan Symphony Orchestra performs. [4-minute video]
- Music from Iran's Shooshtar-Dezful region, performed by the Rastak Ensemble. [5-minute video]
- Iran tourism: Introducing the city of Isfahan and its wonders. [3-minute video]
- Iran history/tourism: Tour of the historic city of Bishapour in Kazeroon, Fars Province. [8-minute video]
(6) Shame on con-men who fool the masses by pretending to represent God, and on their enablers in Iran and elsewhere: This con-man/cleric relates the story of Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law touching a wife on the shoulder, which immediately led to signs of pregnancy and, within an hour, the delivery of a baby boy!
(7) Mega-mall, with its architecture inspired by several historical sites and monuments, set to open in Tehran, Iran: Interestingly, this video opens with an Islamic call to prayer, indicating that it was made to appease the mullahs. Here is a YouTube video about the same project.

2018/12/23 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Gift idea: For your liberal friends in the US, there is this anti-Trump mug, available from various sellers at $10-15 Gift idea for a loved one in Iran: You can make them an overnight book author at a cost of 5-10 million tomans! Nerdy Christmas message: me^(rry) = x - mas! (1) A couple of holiday gift ideas and a nerdy message: [Left] For your liberal friends in the US, there is this anti-Trump mug, available from various sellers at $10-15 (excuse the poor grammar). [Center] And for a loved one in Iran, you can make them an overnight book author at a cost of 5-10 million tomans, equivalent to about 500-1000 US dollars (see the list of titles and prices)! [Right] Deriving the equation: me^(rry) = x–mas!
(2) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: This is the title of a 1953 short story by Dorothy M. Johnson, later turned into a 1962 John Ford movie by the same title. In the now-classic Western film, James Stewart plays a wimpy scholar who gets involved in a shoot-out against the outlaw character Valance (played by Lee Marvin). Valance is shot dead before he can draw his gun, with the Stewart character thinking that he accomplished the impossible feat. However, Valance was actually shot dead by a hidden sharp-shooter, played by John Wayne. Trump and his sidekicks, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, think that their strengths and smarts slayed Hillary Clinton, while the fatal shot was actually fired by a Russian sharp-shooter, as new revelations confirm.
(3) Trump reportedly rattled by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis' resignation letter and the Fed's interest-rate hike. He is considering firing the Fed Chief, as #TrumpResigns trends on Twitter.
(4) Advances in game-playing programs: The unprecedented success of Google's AlphaZero shows that DeepMind has produced an algorithm capable of mastering even the toughest board games with fixed rules.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hundreds perish in Indonesia from tsunami induced by underwater volcanic eruption and mudslide.
- Norwegian and Danish women beheaded in Morocco: ISIS seems to want to scare tourists away.
- Trump, angered by Jim Mattis' resignation letter, fires him two months before his resignation date. [NYT]
- Acting President appoints another acting secretary! Deputy Defense Secretary takes Jim Mattis' position.
- The Trump presidency faces four major threats, all beginning with 'M': Markets; Mueller; Military; Media.
- US House enacts the National Quantum Computing Initiative, a 10-year program to spur R&D in the field.
- It's ironic that a guy who looks like this, and needs spray-on hair to feel whole, considers his race superior.
- Just another beautiful day in Goleta, California: Photo of the car in front of me at Fairview-101 on-ramp.
(6) Tweet of the day: Aida Ahadiany observes that Iranian films contain too much screaming, concluding with the advice that sorrow, pain, and uncertainty cannot be communicated effectively in this way. [Tweet image]
(7) Sustainability research gains prominence at UCSB: Henley Hall, a new building to house our Institute for Energy Efficiency, is expected to open in fall 2020.

2018/12/22 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Map of Japan and the expected location of a magnitude-9.0 quake in the next 3 decades Cartoon: Crushed by the weight of the news The grocery chain Kroger has teamed up with Nuro to expand the use of self-driving food delivery vehicles in Arizona (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Japan is quietly preparing for a magnitude-9.0 quake and associated 30-meter tsunami waves, that are said to have 3 in 4 odds of occurring near its southern shores over the next 3 decades. [Center] Does anyone else feel crushed by the news (both volume and gravity)? [Right] The grocery chain Kroger has teamed up with Nuro to expand the use of self-driving food delivery vehicles in Arizona.
(2) Trump's second gift to Putin in as many days: He lifts sanctions against an oligarch linked to Putin and to the bank that was to finance the Trump Tower Moscow project.
(3) Consciousness and associated psychological processes—thoughts, beliefs, ideas, intentions, and more—are products of non-conscious processes: Confused? Read this article!
(4) History of human space flight: A wonderful resource page concerning the history of human space flight, as we prepare to celebrate in 2019 the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Happy winter/summer! As we enter the winter season, our friends down-under are starting their summer.
- Last night's gorgeous sunset in Carpinteria, posted by one of our local Channel 3 reporters.
- US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg undergoes emergency lung-cancer surgery.
- Yes, Mr. Ryan, America is broken, as you observed, but I wish you'd say a few words about who broke it!
- Anyone who disagrees with Trump is weak and stupid: This week it was the Fed's turn to be dissed!
- Mitch McConnell says he is distressed over Jim Mattis resigning. Here are his distressed and normal looks!
- Los Angeles names the 134 freeway "President Barack H. Obama Highway." [Photo]
- Two young UCSB professors have been honored with Northrop Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award.
(6) Iran's Supreme Leader essentially pre-approves the use of deadly force on street protesters: Normally, he would wait until after the protests to blame the US, Israel, the Saudis, or whoever else came to his mind. By saying the US is hatching evil plans for 2019 (perhaps worried about Islamic Republic's 40th anniversary celebrations, which would be natural targets of protests), he is giving his security apparatus a blank check to deal with them as they please. All street protesters will now be viewed as US agents, unless proven otherwise.
(7) Major airport is shut down because of drone threat: Planes at Gatwick Airport, UK's second largest, were grounded due to repeated, deliberate drone interference with flight paths; no terrorism seems to be involved.
(8) Final thought for the day: "We need to write now, write well—tell the truth in all its messy complexity. It's our best shot at helping to preserve a democracy in which facts still exist and all of us can speak freely." ~ Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author and President of PEN America

2018/12/21 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Winter Solstice and the Iranian Festival of Yalda, celebrating the longest night of the year. Colored eggshells: Apt image for educating racists A gorgeous sunrise in Goleta, California, a day before the Winter Solstice (Shab-e Yalda) (1) Appreciating the colors of nature: [Left] Happy Winter Solstice and the Iranian Festival of Yalda, celebrating the longest night of the year. [Center] Colored eggshells: Apt image for educating racists. [Right] A gorgeous sunrise in Goleta, California, a day before the Winter Solstice (Shab-e Yalda).
(2) The US has abandoned the Kurds for the second time, once leaving them at the mercy of the butcher of Baghdad who gassed them en mass and now leaving them vulnerable to massacre by Assad and Erdogan.
(3) Free press is a rare privilege: Only 13% of people live where the press operates with little influence, few legal constraints, and no fear of repercussions. [Map credit: Time magazine]
(4) Mohammed bin Salman to his security chief: "Kill this man, jail that woman!" Reply: "Yes, sir!"
Donald Trump to FBI: "Jail this man, investigate that woman!" Reply: "Are you f---ing crazy?"
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- For years, Facebook exempted business partners from its rules, giving them broad access to private data.
- Techiest US state: Massachusetts tops Milken Institute's 2018 State Technology and Science Index.
- Interesting architectures in Iran: Ghazvin Bazaar and other samples of work by Goli Tavakoli. [Photos]
- Donald Knuth worries about algorithms getting too prominent, and so complicated they cannot be read.
- In a first, Reporters Without Borders places the US among the top-5 deadliest countries for journalists.
- A market in Tehran, Iran, with Shab-e Yalda (Winter Solstice) decorations and antique home implements.
- Democracies flourish where there is bright light. Autocracies prosper in total darkness.
(6) Scientific fraud: Fei Wang, Tenured Associate Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at U. Illinois, has been fired after revelations that he had fabricated data in NSF and NIH grant applications.
(7) Science's big crisis, created by big data: In this age of "big data," scientists tend to perform statistical analyses long after the data have been collected. This creates a reproducibility crisis, fueled in part by the analyses applied to data-driven hypotheses, the opposite of how things are traditionally done. Scientists can luckily see interesting but spurious patterns in a dataset, leading them to formulate hypotheses which will, of course, be validated by the data. To protect against this eventuality, data should be seen only after the hypothesis-formulation stage.
(8) Tweet of the day: Do not say that 3 pre-school kids were killed in Zahedan (Iran). Honor their memories by mentioning their names to the clueless authorities running our country. Scream Mona Khosro-Parast, Maryam Nokandi, and Saba Arabi! We people are more than a bunch of numbers in news stories. [Persian tweet]
(9) Final thoughts for the day, with calligraphic images from Time magazine, issue of December 24/31, 2018.
- "Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom." ~ John McCain [1936-2018] [Image]
- "Freedom of the press ensures that the abuse of every other freedom can be known, can be challenged, and even defeated." ~ Kofi Annan [1938-2018] [Image]

2018/12/20 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Sample social-media posts in the US by Russia's Internet Research Agency, Image 1 Sample social-media posts in the US by Russia's Internet Research Agency, Image 2 Sample social-media posts in the US by Russia's Internet Research Agency, Image 3 (1) Sample social-media posts in the US by Russia's Internet Research Agency, which operates a troll farm. These samples exploit three key wedge issues: Military/veterans, race, and religion. In the category of race, Russian trolls played on legitimate grievances of black Americans to sow discord and suppress votes.
(2) Which is it, Donald: Have we defeated ISIS or are we leaving the fight to others? You can't have it both ways! And, by the way, we already had by far the most powerful military in the world; you aren't building it!
(3) In a chain of tweets, beginning with these two, Trump defends his "charitable" foundation, which he is dissolving in the face of allegations of fraud, much like what he did with Trump University in 2016.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Correlation between share of white people with no college degree and districts' 2018 voting margin. [Chart]
- Rudy Giuliani has become an embarrassment to himself and to our country: When will this prolonged end?
- Trump Foundation joins his University in the dustbin of history, following allegations of illegal conduct.
- Despite dozens of daily air strikes against ISIS, Trump declares victory and orders US forces out of Syria.
- Illinois AG slams the Catholic Church for its protection of hundreds of accused priests in her jurisdiction.
- Christmas music by a wonderful couple at Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace. [Video 1] [Video 2]
(5) Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis resigns, effective the end of February 2019, over differences with Trump. (Differences? Did he just wake up from a 2-year slumber? There goes the last remaining adult in the room, taking with him a shattered reputation!)
(6) The House Democratic majority just broke Trump, even before being sworn in: He rescinds the threat to shut down the government unless he gets funding for his wall, saying he will fund it some other way.
(7) MPAA rating chair retires after nearly two decades: Joan Graves, who oversaw Motion Picture Association of America's film rating endeavors, talks with NPR's Ari Shapiro about the big business of movie ratings. Among interesting tidbits in this program, we learn that many directors sign contracts with movie studios that include explicit mention of the finished product's rating. They consult with the rating board's liaison office in script and all later stages to ensure they can hit the targeted rating. One filmmaker wanted to know if it would be possible to make a movie about a womanizing and drug-using celebrity ("Ray"), while keeping the rating PG-13! If a movie targeting PG-13 ends up being rated R, the financial implications are enormous. Here's another interesting tidbit: MPAA rates films nationally, but regions of the US are sensitive to different things: Blasphemy in the South, nudity and sexuality in the Midwest, violence in coastal areas.
(8) Trump can't feign ignorance of campaign-finance laws: He once bragged to Larry King that he knows more about campaign-finance law than anybody. [Tweet image]
(9) The "Seven Friends" are back together: Afif Naeemi, the last among a group of imprisoned Baha'i leaders in Iran, has been released after serving 10 years in jail.

2018/12/19 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for the book 'What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism' (1) Book review: Rather, Dan and Elliot Kirschner, What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism, unabridged audiobook on 6 CDs, read by Dan Rather, HighBridge Audio, 2017. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Rather, 87, a venerated journalist for much of his life (until he was ousted from CBS for not sufficiently vetting falsified documents critical of President George W. Bush), is now viewed as a voice of reason in our tumultuous political climate. However, it is difficult to listen to him without remembering his mis-steps. Additionally, his once-clear anchorman's enunciation has deteriorated with age, making one wish that the publisher had chosen a different reader for the audiobook.
Rather's writing style comes across as flat and cliche-ridden. Still, I found quite a few interesting topics in this collection of original essays, which touch upon the foundations of our country, from freedom, voting, and the press, to empathy, inclusion, and service, along with institutions and traits that make it all possible, namely, public education and the spirit of innovation in science, technology, and medicine.
In a November 2017 interview with NPR, Rather spoke about this book. Key parts of the interview covered patriotism being used as a political bludgeon, his mix of optimism and alarm about our country, and the impact he has had via Facebook that he could not have had at CBS.
(2) A clear case of collusion: For a whole year, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been attacked by Donald Trump from the inside and by Russian trolls and disinformation agents from the outside.
(3) Another genius flees Iran: Shabnam Raayai-Ardakani, a Baha'i student who was prevented from doing graduate work at Iran's Sharif University of Technology, came to America, got her PhD at MIT, and won the prestigious American Physical Society's Stanley Corrsin Dissertation Award in Fluid Dynamics. She is now a post-doctoral researcher at MIT.
(4) Judge to Michael Flynn, when postponing his sentencing: "All along you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country while serving as the national security adviser to the president of the United States. Arguably, that undermines everything that flag over here stands for." [Full story]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Dow Jones Industrial Average, and US stock market as a whole, in seriously negative territory for 2018.
- Where are Trump tweets about the market tanking? You can't boast about the highs and not own the lows!
- Film director and actress Penny Marshall dead at 75.
- California man details plans for ISIS-supported attacks around San Francisco that would "redefine terror."
- The fascinating story of meteorite hunters and their search for the most-coveted extra-terrestrial rock.
- Merriam-Webster's 2018 word of the year: Justice
- Persian equivalent terms: "charkhat" ("four lines") for "hashtag" (#) and "tarakonesh" for "transaction."
- Undersea servers solve a most challenging problem facing data centers: Keeping electronics cool.
(6) Pathology goes digital: After a biopsied tissue sample is sliced and stained, the slides are scanned and presented to a program, which uses its machine-learning training to spot subtle patterns and provide advice to the pathologist. [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of December 2018]
(7) The Internet of disposable things: Throwaway paper and plastic sensors will soon connect consumable goods and supplies. [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of December 2018]

2018/12/18 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Some Democrats are troubled that the three front-runners for 2020 presidential election are all white males (Biden, Sanders, O'Rourke) Essay: Americans are much better than Russians in fostering discord among themselves How anger became the dominant emotion in America's politics and our citizens' lives, and what to do about it (1) Thoughts on American politics: [Left] Some Democrats are troubled that the three front-runners for 2020 presidential election are all white males (Biden, Sanders, O'Rourke). [Center] Americans are much better than Russians in fostering discord among themselves (The Atlantic essay). [Right] How anger became the dominant emotion in America's politics and our citizens' lives, and what to do about it (The Atlantic article).
(2) Paul Ryan's new discovery, uttered with a straight face: "I worry about tribal identity politics becoming the new norm ... As conservatives, we always thought this was sort of a left-wing ... thing. Unfortunately, the right practices identity politics now as well."
(3) Tweet of the day, for my Persian-speaking readers: On the passage of time and changing circumstances making old songs less relevant, while they remain enjoyable and popular. [Tweet, with continuations]
(4) What do the Islamic State and Trump administration have in common? Total disregard for the environment. Islamic State groups left occupied areas polluted and in ruins, even poisoning the wells from which they drank.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- I'd agree with calling the media's tendency to sensationalize "fake news," but not if done by the biggest liar!
- Hey there boarders: Your tireless-finger president is concerned about your security. Rejoice! [Trump tweet]
- OPEC is cutting production under the influence of Russia, which seems to be running the organization.
- Today in US history: On December 17, 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered Jews to leave the war zone.
- Clean-up crew caught clowning around and taking/posting offensive photos on the ruins of Camp Fire.
- Diverse film roles spanning six decades earn Jeff Bridges the Golden Globes' Cecil B. DeMille Award.
- Newly-discovered, pristine 4400-years-old tomb in Saqqara, Egypt, bears clues to the life of a royal official.
- Christmas music at the Camino Real Marketplace, played by members of Santa Barbara Trombone Society.
(6) Netflix competes with traditional movie studios, but it has a problem come Oscars time: Its films are not eligible for Academy Awards, unless they open in theaters. So, Netflix sent "Roma" to theaters first.
(7) Betting on climate change: Harvard has been quietly buying California vineyards and their water rights, particularly in areas expected to be hit hard by climate change, which would make the water rights precious.
(8) A teacher's best reward is former students appreciating and honoring him/her: This article (in Persian) appeared in Computer Report, the technical magazine of the Informatics Society of Iran, special issue on ISI's 40th anniversary, fall 2018. This brief reflection (in Persian) also appeared in the same issue.

2018/12/17 (Monday): Presenting some unusual puzzles and oddities from around the Internet.
A twist on Sudoku, Variant 1 A twist on Sudoku, Variant 2 A twist on Sudoku, Variant 3 A twist on Sudoku, Variant 4 A twist on Sudoku, Variant 5 A twist on Sudoku, Variant 6 (1) Six variations on Sudoku, from yesterday's New York Times: [Top left] Rules are the same as in ordinary Sudoku, with the added greater-than/less-than constraints. For example, the number in the top-left corner should be greater than the number to its right and less than the number below it. [Top center] You solve this one as usual, with the added constraints that the boxes having a small circle between them should hold consecutive numbers. So 1o should be followed by 2 and 6o by 5 or 7. [Top right] Here, all the numbers that are adjacent to 9 are given for each row and each column. For example, the entry 9 in the top row must be flanked by 2 and 3, in either order, and the 9 in the leftmost column has a 1 next to it (meaning that the 9 is either the top or bottom entry in Column 1). [Bottom left] The numbers along each thermometer go in increasing order, starting at the bulb, but they are not necessarily consecutive integers. For example, the thermometer on the bottom-right could hold 14679 but not 14689. [Bottom center] The miniature numbers should be placed in the four squares around them, but not necessarily in the given order. [Bottom right] This one's more challenging and rather different from ordinary Sudoku. The numbers 1 through 8 should not repeat in each of the three principal directions or within highlighted boxes. For example, using B for blank, the eight boxes on the left edge that should not contain repeated numbers are B2BBB7BB, and in the next-to-last layer from the top, the pattern is 2BBBBBB7.
(2) More puzzles from yesterday's New York Times: In these word puzzles, each of the eight 9-letter words, with one of its 3-letter blocks given, must be completed by using two of the triplets of letters provided on the left. A triplet must be used as a block, with letters appearing in the order given.
(3) One last unusual puzzle from yesterday's New York Times: Fill out the blank squares so that across and down entries are valid with both letter pairs given. For example, on the top left (across), the three blank squares should be filled out to give you two valid words _UA_ _ and _HO_ _.
(4) [Humor] Breaking news: Santa will out-source collection of wish lists to Facebook, his North-Pole workshop to Google's robotics branch, and gift delivery to Amazon, as he gets ready to retire.
(5) Cartoon caption—One legislator to another: "Can we limit the government shutdown to the White House?"
(6) Evolving lies: It didn't happen. ... Okay, it did, but I wasn't aware of it. ... I knew about it, but much later. So what? It wasn't illegal. ... It's a civil, not a criminal offense. ... [Insert the next explanation here.]

2018/12/16 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Colorful red and orange wildflowers, Photo 1 Colorful red and orange wildflowers, Photo 2 Colorful red and orange wildflowers, Photo 3 (1) Our beautiful world: Colorful red and orange wildflowers.
(2) Venezuela's inflation rate surpasses 1 million percent: That's 10,000-fold price increases (imagine a $3 cup of coffee costing $30,000), and there is no end in sight. [Source: Newsweek]
(3) Renewal of the Investor Visa Program (EB-5) being scrutinized: Under the Freedom of Information Act, DHS has been ordered to send a rep to a hearing on the Program's status and Jared Kushner's role in it.
(4) Mick Mulvaney, the new Acting WH Chief of Staff, on Donald Trump, shortly before the 2016 election: "Yes, I'm supporting Donald Trump. I'm doing so as enthusiastically as I can, given the fact that I think he's a terrible human being. But the choice on the other side is just as bad."
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Greta Thunberg, 15-year-old climate activist, addresses the plenary session at a UN climate conference.
- The worst nightmare of a con man: His entire life going under a powerful legal microscope.
- Google pauses development and sales of its facial recognition technology over ethical concerns. [Bloomberg]
- Persian music: Mandana Khazraei sings "Bezan Baaraan" (her own lyrics, on music by Babak Shahraki).
- This film-director-turned-baker from Vancouver converts pies to amazing works of art.
- Look what I found at Costco yesterday: An iPad guide for seniors, which is written in plain English!
(6) Trump question (June 2014 tweet): Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence? Answer (December 2018): Your question went unanswered for 4.5 years, but we're about to find out, Donald!
(7) Supreme-Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking to a group of new citizens at the National Archives, in front of the original copy of the US Constitution: You play a vital part in cleansing the stains of discrimination from the country.
(8) Democracy can't prosper with intolerance: In this tweet, Negar Mortazavi complains that her posting of a suggestion to Prince Reza Pahlavi to deal with the dark sides of his father's and grandfather's authoritarian rules, before staking a claim as their successor, brought about loads of cussing, sexual insults, and misogynistic comments, mostly from expats who live in democratic societies. I often dismiss claims that Iranians aren't ready for democracy, but when faced with such intolerant reactions to a stated opinion, doubts set in!
(9) Final thought for the day: Every time the federal government injects $1 of subsidy into our higher-education system, universities raise tuition prices and pocket 2/3 of it. [Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue University and former Indiana Governor, this week on PBS "Firing Line"]

2018/12/15 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Front-page samples for National Enquirer Commemorative 40th-anniversary keepsake and the latest issue of 'Computer Report,' ISI's magazine Interesting protest sign: 'We need healthcare, not wealthcare' (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Front-page samples for National Enquirer. [Center] Informatics Society of Iran turns 40 (continued): I recently received a commemorative 40th-anniversary keepsake and the latest issue of Computer Report, ISI's magazine. [Right] Interesting protest sign: "We need healthcare, not wealthcare."
(2) National Enquirer, which published only positive stories about Trump and made-up conspiracy theories about his opponents (see the image above), turned relatively quite after the story of Trump buying out their files broke out. Now, the tabloid has turned against Trump in order to save itself and its owner, David Pecker.
(3) Yemen war being curtailed: For the first time since the passage of the War Powers Act in 1973, the US Senate orders the executive branch to end an unauthorized military campaign.
(4) Church abuse scandal: Of the 200+ clergymen identified as child molesters in Southern California, 12 held lengthy postings in the Santa Barbara area. [Source: Santa Barbara Independent]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Evangelical Christians' influence waning: They helped elect Trump, but cracks are appearing in their ranks.
- Putin's E. German Stasi card allowed him to operate in that country without being linked to the KGB. [NYT]
- My daughter is the 13th author on this research paper, published in the prestigious journal Science.
- Iranian regional music and dance: From the Bakhtiari or Lorestan region. [3-minute video]
- Quote of the day: "Everybody is talented, original, and has something important to say." ~ Brenda Ueland
(6) Physicist Ania Bleszynski Jayich, who happens to be my wall-to-wall neighbor, is slated to receive more than $0.5 million as part of a $12-million project to "dramatically expand our understanding of quantum coherence in solids by building on fundamental materials discoveries." [Source: Convergence, the magazine of engineering and the sciences at UCSB]
(7) The 15-second security screening: Recently unveiled at an airport in Dubai, the process consists of an iris scan, followed by a walk through a "smart tunnel." [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of December 2018]
(8) Interesting calendar fact: Next week's Winter Solstice gives us the shortest day (longest night) of the year, but not the earliest sunset or the latest sunrise. In the Northern Hemisphere, the earliest sunset occurs a week or two before the Winter Solstice and the latest sunrise a week or two after. The timing of the two events is reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. [Table]

2018/12/14 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Status update by Sisyphus: 'Almost at the top, fam!' Cartoon: The Democrats finally give Trump a wall National Christmas Tree: 'The tear gas cannisters and razor wire are a nice touch ...' (1) Cartoons: [Left] Status update by Sisyphus: "Almost at the top, fam!" [Center] The Democrats finally give Trump a wall. [Right] National Christmas Tree: "The tear gas cannisters and razor wire are a nice touch ..."
(2) Engineering schools are getting more serious about teaching ethics: The coming dominance of autonomous and intelligent systems makes the ever-important ethics course more indispensable.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Iranian folk music: Sima Bina performs an old favorite from the Caspian Sea region. [Video]
- Persian Music: A beautiful traditional piece by Darvish Khan entitled "Parichehr and Parizad." [Video]
- Humor—New book being written for Trump by his attorneys: The Art of Plea Bargain Deal
- Cartoon of the day: Dilbert gets to write a performance review for himself! [Image]
- Quote of the day: "Everything you want is on the other side of fear." ~ Jack Canfield
- For cat lovers: The $180 Mousr robot entertains your cat(s). [Source: IEEE Spectrum, December 2018]
(4) Netanyahu says attacking Iran is on the table if Israel's survival is threatened: He maintains that Khashoggi's murder, which is "shocking and horrible," must be assessed in the context of Saudi Arabia's role in regional and, hence, world stability. Netanyahu did not indicate whether detainment and torturing of women's rights activists are also necessary for regional stability. [BBC Persian report]
(5) [Follow-up to the previous item, written in reply to a Facebook commenter who objected to the part about what Netanyahu didn't say.] In politics, as in other aspects of life, much is written between the lines, which should be deduced. Politicians hedge their statements to leave themselves room for denial or re-interpretation. Reacting "within the context of world stability," as suggested by Netanyahu, means we should not sanction or otherwise apply pressure to MBS for murdering Khashoggi, because that would de-stabilize the Kingdom. Now if a gruesome murder, followed by dismemberment and packing in suitcases to remove the body from the Saudi Consulate, isn't enough to raise objection, how important are mere arrests and torture of women activists in Saudi Arabia? All dictators and their apologists resort to people's fear of insecurity and instability to justify their actions, and this includes the mullahs in Iran. As I write, 251 journalists are imprisoned worldwide and, while Turkey is still the worst offender, the number in Saudi Arabia has doubled to 16 (including 4 women who wrote about women's rights) since 2017.

2018/12/13 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Las Veras Ranch gifted to UCSB: View Las Veras Ranch gifted to UCSB: Map A wall ornament costing less than $20 brightens up my dining room (1) Miscellaneous photos: [Left & Center] The fabulous Las Veras Ranch gifted to UCSB (see Item 2 below). [Right] A wall ornament costing less than $20 brightens up my dining room.
(2) UCSB receives a major land gift: Las Varas Ranch, an 1800-acre agricultural property located 6 miles west of the UCSB campus, stretching between the Pacific Ocean (2-mile coastline) and Los Padres National Forest, has been gifted to UCSB by Charles T. Munger. For now, UCSB will keep the property as a working ranch, until the completion of consultations about its long-term use to benefit the community for generations to come.
(3) Science which is disliked by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards: Kaveh Madani, who narrowly escaped arrest when he left Iran, chimes in on the fate of detained fellow scientist Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi.
(4) Misogynistic Iranian laws: Most discriminatory laws against women were passed in the early years after the Islamic Revolution. Recent cosmetic reforms have not significantly changed the situation. This article examines the laws and the role played in their enactment by women parliamentarians.
(5) Racism personified: "Newly elected Democrats all hate white men, are Jews, Muslims, college queers, and black church ladies." ~ Conservative commentator Ann Coulter
(6) How our brain marks time: Recent neuroscience discoveries have told us about specific brain regions that deal with time-stamping of events, before they are stored away in memory. But it is still unclear how the passage of time is marked. Calendars, and the associated notions of days, weeks, months, and years, are social constructs. There are tribes on Earth that have no words for such time units and whose members are unaware of how old they are, using instead changes and crossing of life thresholds (such as menstruation or marriage) as time markers. It is conjectured that our brain does something similar. Given that philosophers and physicists are still arguing about the nature of time, we are a long way from fully understanding how our brains record and process temporal information. [Summary of New Yorker article]
(7) Iranian women are singing and playing music in record numbers, despite a multitude of governmental restrictions.The following videos from Navahang's Facebook page show the depth and diversity of talent.
- Solmaz Naraghi performs the song "Delakam" ("My Little Heart"). [1-minute video]
- Mahdieh Mohammad-Khani performs the oldie song "Bot-e Chin" ("Chinese Idol"). [1-minute video]
- An oldie song, performed by Rahaa (Raaheleh Barzegari). [1-minute video]
(8) Apple's significant expansions in sites and jobs: The plans reportedly include a $1 billion campus in Austin, Texas, sites in San Diego and Culver City, California, and $10 billion new investment in US data centers.

2018/12/12 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Holiday lighting displays around Riverside's Mission Inn, Photo 1 Holiday lighting displays around Riverside's Mission Inn, Photo 2 Holiday lighting displays around Riverside's Mission Inn, Photo 3 (1) My two-day visit to Riverside and its historic Mission Inn: This was a group travel event on A large Santa Barbara Airbus, filled to its 56-passenger capacity. My seat, right behind the driver, had the added benefit of easy access to community snacks! The group stopped for lunch in Old Town Pasedena, where I decided to go on a walking exploration of the area, including City Hall and other government buildings, in lieu of eating at Cheesecake Factory. Traveling from Pasadena to Riverside, I photographed snow-capped mountains and, shortly after arrival at Mission Inn, the view from my room's window. Here are a couple of night shots from my room and views of the gorgeous patio where we dined. After dinner, I walked the streets around city-block-sized Inn, photographing the elaborate lighting displays and recording street musicians playing in the area. [Video 1: Banjo player] [Video 2: Electric-guitar player (rock 'n roll)] [Video 3: Guitar player (blues)] Today, on the trip's second day, I went on a guided tour of Mission Inn. The tour included both areas that are parts of the 240-room hotel and private areas, some of which are used for meetings, weddings, and the like. The Inn, a national historical monument and a major landmark in its area, isn't a converted mission, as one might think, but was built in the mission revival style by founder Frank Miller, who inherited the property from his father. The Inn's architecture and the vast collection of art it houses are reminiscent of Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
(2) Time magazine's Person of the Year announced: It is "The Guardians," a collection of journalists, headed by Jamal Khashoggi, who have been murdered, arrested, or harassed for speaking truth to power. [Cover image]
(3) Intel unveils its new 3D packaging technology: Feasibility of 3D memories had been shown earlier, but Intel is the first to bring 3D stacking to CPUs, GPUs, and AI processors in production.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- An awful lot of witches: All the associates and family members of Trump who had contacts with Russians.
- Two Democrats, the Liar-in-Chief, and a motionless department-store dummy meet in the Oval Office.
- Climate scientists consider Trump a dangerous clown for dismissing the greatest threat our country faces.
- As labor protests continue in Iran, students who support the protests targeted by the security apparatuses.
- Baha'i businesses in Iran charged with code violation and closed down for observing a religious holiday.
- The best way to teach ethics to your children or students is to treat them ethically.
- Iran's Supreme Leader supports the Yellow-Vest protesters in France. [Cartoon, from IranWire.com]
(5) Mikhail Gorbachev writes a forceful and touching tribute to George H. W. Bush in Time magazine, issue of December 17, 2018, under the title "The War We Ended—and a Peace in Jeopardy."

2018/12/11 (Tuesday): Book review: Mundy, Liza, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Erin Bennett, Hachette Audio, 2017.
Cover image for Liza Mundy's 'Code Girls' [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
If Hidden Figures wasn't enough to convince you that women can excel at the same level as and beyond men, when given opportunities, this book will. To relate a favorite quote of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking on behalf of women, "I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks."
Let me begin by comparing the book to Hidden Figures (HF), as the subject matters are quite similar. Unlike HF, CG includes a lot of detail about the actual code-breaking challenges and methods, down to the names of ciphers and design of coding machines and the algorithms they used. There is attention to the women's personal and social lives, but those aren't the primary foci. Perhaps, this was made possible by code-breaking being more intuitive than space-trajectory calculations.
World War II, with its attendant shortage of men to fill available science/technology positions, provided an opportunity for women to move away from what were then nominal careers for them (teacher, librarian, etc.) and step up to roles as scientists and engineers. In fact, the US government recruited some of the code-breakers it needed to help intercept and decode enemy messages from among math teachers, who simply assumed that a math degree for a woman meant a teaching career.
Thousands of women, recruited from small-town schools and elite women's colleges were involved in the secret American program to break German, Japanese, Italian, and other communications ciphers from our adversaries. These efforts were no less important in shortening the War and ensuring the eventual victory than the contributions of those who took up arms or made battle plans in Europe and elsewhere.
Recruiting women for code-breaking jobs had started earlier, but it took greater urgency after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The US Navy and other military branches expanded their search for talent, once the US officially entered the war. Interestingly, the branches of US military were competing in this domain and did not always share information with each other!
The women code-breakers used a combination of intuition, knowledge of math/stat, human engineering, and dogged hard work to attack each new code, sometimes taking weeks or months to break them. Mundy does provide a great deal of technical details about the secret codes and methods used to attack them. As the D-Day landing approached, the women were also charged with creating fake coded messages to mislead the axis forces about the actual attack site.
Sexism still prevailed in the military and elsewhere, as these women were helping with the war effort beyond everyone's expectations, breaking increasingly complex codes. For example, there were some who held the misguided view that women could not be trusted to keep secrets. Ironically, many of these women did not even share the nature of what they were doing with their families, and Mundy extracted information from them after providing assurances that NSA was okay with it. One person in charge of hiring women code-breakers reportedly told those who provided him with talent to send only pretty girls, because he did not want to be stuck with them after the end of the War!
Mundy's meticulous research for the book included numerous interviews with surviving code girls. The stories in this book form a nice complement to the much better-known efforts of the group at Bletchley Park, led by the British mathematician Alan Turing, which was made into a successful movie. Searching on-line, I could not find whether CG is being made into a movie. There is also no information on whether these women were honored with medals or otherwise.
Here is a 69-minute talk by the author about the book and its heroes. Mundy does mention at the very end of the Q&A period that the story has been optioned for a movie, but that there are no definite plans at this time.

2018/12/10 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCSB campus under unusual clouds, photo 1 UCSB campus under unusual clouds, photo 2 UCSB campus under unusual clouds, photo 3 (1) Unusual cloud formations and lighting produced these wonderful images on the UCSB Campus this evening.
(2) Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70: Every day should be human-rights day, but let's celebrate anyway by renewing our pledge to stand for rights and against all forms of injustice and disenfranchisement.
(3) A tweet for every occasion, just like Hallmark cards: About to appoint his third Chief of Staff in 2 years, Trump is being hit on the head with his 2012 tweet criticizing Obama for having 3 Chiefs of Staff (not Chief of Staffs) in less than 3 years. [Tweet image]
(4) Quote of the day: "Saudis would be speaking Farsi in about a week without US support." ~ US Senator Lindsay Graham, fear-mongering against Iran
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The "law-and-order" president will likely serve jail time for breaking campaign-finance and other laws.
- The company you keep: US joins Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait to challenge climate-change report.
- Duh-worthy research conclusion: College students changing majors pay more, take longer to graduate!
- A glimpse of unusual freeways in China: Marvelous feats of engineering! [Video]
- Spell checkers can't save the illiterate and the careless: Trump's "Smocking Gun" deemed mock-worthy!
(6) Jon Meacham's eulogy for GHWB: If you did not hear presidential historian Jon Meacham speak at George H. W. Bush's funeral, this 12-minute video is for you. Don't miss this touching and humorous speech!
(7) Fasten your seat belts: The stock market is following the chaos in the White House and the inconsistent ramblings of the Idiot-in-Chief. Some analysts predict continued volatility through 2019 and a drop of about 15% before an eventual rebound.
(8) China's very advanced on-line services: According to Fareed Zakaria, on his Sunday CNN program, very few Chinese carry cash or credit cards. A smartphone-based payment system is used everywhere. You can pay merchants or individuals a sum ranging from as little as a few cents to many thousands of dollars, with a tiny fee; even beggars have gone the way of electronic payment! One reason for China's leap forward in the area of electronic payments is that credit cards never took hold there, so there isn't an establishment to oppose the lightweight, low-overhead payment system. In another domain, food can be delivered in most parts of the country in as little as 30 minutes, arriving hot and costing only about $0.70 extra. Scooter-riding Chinese do the delivery, a la Uber. When there is a shortage of delivery people, a higher compensation is announced on short notice, using artificial intelligence, bringing more people to the service.

2018/12/09 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
New York City subway at rush hour, 1950s Aerial view of NYC's Times Square, 1967 Flight attendants, 1960s (1) History in pictures: [Left] New York City subway at rush hour, 1950s. [Center] Aerial view of NYC's Times Square, 1967. [Right] Flight attendants, 1960s.
(2) Emotionally Sentient Agents: This is the cover feature of the December 2018 issue of Communications of the ACM. Emotionally aware systems that respond to social and emotional cues can be more engaging and trusted, hence the incentive to study such systems, including issues of reliability and transparency. [Image]
(3) Persian Music: Shab-e Yalda, the Iranian festival celebrating Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year, is coming in a couple of weeks. Here is a song about it.
(4) The Armenian deduk, a wonderful double-reed woodwind musical instrument made of apricot wood:
Master deduk player Andranik Mesropian demonstrates dedul with his band. [Video 1]
Jivan Gasparyan's rendition of "They Took My Love Away," a tender song, featuring multiple duduks. [Video 2]
Deduk featured at a Yanni concert. [Video 3]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- It is said that Trump's Chief of Staff John Kelly is stepping down. I think the correct term is "stepping up"!
- A close look inside the International Space Station, including how the astronauts live. [25-minute video]
- The cast of "Friends," many moons ago. [Photos]
- Introducing a new musical instrument to symphony orchestras: The mechanical typewriter!
- Song and dance from Iran, featuring regional music and costumes. [Video]
(6) Fifty years ago, innovator extraordinaire Douglas Engelbart presented a demo at a technical conference that foretold today's on-line information services and preceded the Web by 20 years.
(7) College Cup's championship match: Akron, 5-1 semifinal victor over Michigan State, and Maryland, 2-0 winner over Indiana, met this afternoon for NCAA's soccer title. On the other side of Harder Stadium, across from me, are the VIP seating section (middle) and the two teams' cheering sections (left and right) [Photo]. On my side are general-admission and student seating sections. Are cameras this big really needed in the age of nanoelectronics? A UCSB musical group performed the National Anthem.
- I was expecting Akron to dominate, but Maryland had the upper hand in the scoreless first half.
- Maryland scored on a PK in the 57th minute.
- Akron presented some serious threats 15-20 minutes to the end of the game and again near the end.
- The Akron goalie was penalized for tripping a rushing forward in the 76th minute, but he saved the PK.
- Maryland claimed the NCAA soccer championship by beating Akron 1-0 and basking in the glory.

2018/12/08 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Beautiful flowers Is this a painting or a photograph? Hard to tell, given the image's low resolution. Either way, it's wonderfully composed/captured by an unknown artist Calligraphic rendering of a verse from Azeri poet Shahriar (artist unknown) (1) Beauty in nature and arts: [Left] Beautiful flowers. [Center] Is this a painting or a photograph? Hard to tell, given the image's fairly low resolution. Either way, it's wonderfully composed/captured by an unknown artist. [Right] Calligraphic rendering of a verse from Azeri poet Shahriar (artist unknown).
(2) In the end, Trump may be unseated in 2020 not by his impeachable crimes but by an economic recession, which some economists say is looming.
(3) Michelle Obama's memoir is seen as her second coming as one of the most popular Americans, launching what could become a billion-dollar brand.
(4) Trump-speak dictionary [Cartoon]: Did you know: I just found this out | People are saying: I'm making this up | We'll see what happens: I have no clue | Fake news: This makes me look bad | Believe me: I'm lying
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Nine months after his firing, Tillerson vents about his legal and moral disagreements with Trump.
- Trump's lawyers are drafting response to forthcoming Mueller report.
- John Kelly, no longer on speaking terms with Trump, is expected to resign soon. (CNN)
- Foxification of the Trump administration: The boundary is quite blurred. [Chart source: Washington Post]
- Images of the InSight Mars Lander released by NASA.
- Very close to the dwarf planet Ceres in July, NASA's Dawn spacecraft zoomed in to capture these images.
- Hard to beat this robot in fixing a Rubik's Cube! [Video]
- Yodeling is taken to new heights (pun intended) by this young girl: Wonderful! [Video]
- Tehran, on a rare smog-free day. [Tweet, with photos]
- Persian music: Reza Lotfi and Naser Farhang perform Darvish Khan's "Chahar Mezrab-e Mahoor."
(6) Scam alert: Last week, I received an e-mail message from a professional friend, whom I meet often at conferences, asking me whether I could help him with something. I answered "yes." The reply was a sob story: He was out of the country and his sister had to be hospitalized for emergency surgery, requiring him to pay an up-front fee to the doctor, which he could not do from where he was. I asked the impostor to provide me with a phone number so that I could call to verify his request, stating that I would report him to authorities otherwise. The impostor's next reply, coming from a different address that I did not recognize as belonging to my friend, included an apology, indicating that all was okay with him and that he had been hacked! I cc'ed my real friend on the correspondence, to alert him of the hack and hope to hear from him soon, although if his account has been hacked, the cc's may also go to the impostor!

2018/12/07 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Pond in the city of Rasht, near the Caspian coast, Iran Wonderfully colorful traditional Torkaman wedding ceremony, Iran Street in the central city of Isfahan, Iran, after rain. (1) Beautiful Iran: [Left] Pond in the city of Rasht, near the Caspian coast. [Center] Wonderfully colorful traditional Torkaman wedding ceremony. [Right] Street in the central city of Isfahan, after rain.
(2) Happy 20th anniversary to ISS: On December 7, 1998, the first two International Space Station modules (Unity and Zarya) were joined together, beginning the assembly of the orbital lab.
(3) AP report: Google, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and Qualcomm execs gathered yesterday at the White House "amid strained ties" between the Administration and the tech industry and "an ongoing trade war with China."
(4) Racism: Arizona State Rep. David Stringer is banned from one of the school districts he represents, after suggesting that only white immigrants have been successfully assimilated into American society.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Republican strategist: Trump believes he can make the law go away by tweeting at it.
- Parents who lose children to school shootings develop bonds that transcend ideology and politics. [Image]
- This year's Black Friday set an all-time sales record of $6.22 billion: One-third of it was via smartphones.
- Bad habit: Nuns embezzle half a million dollars from school, spending it on vacations and gambling.
- No cure for HIV has been found yet, but science isn't giving up. [Ad for the company XOXOScience]
- Twitter stats released—Most tweeted-about: Donald Trump. Most "liked" or quoted: Barack Obama
- Persian music: Strong feminist message in a song from a century ago. Here is part of the Persian lyrics.
- A cheerful Azeri song, performed by the Rastak Ensemble with an Azeri guest vocalist. [Video]
(6) NCAA Soccer College Cup semifinals: After the end of my office hours and a couple of oral exams, I walked to Harder Stadium to watch both College Cup semifinals (Akron v. Michigan State and Indiana v. Maryland). The championship match will be played on Sunday at 5:00 PM. Even though UCSB isn't involved this year, we hope to qualify for 2020, when the College Cup returns to Santa Barbara. [Images]
The field at UCSB's Harder Stadium was in tip-top shape, as the first semifinal match between Akron and Michigan State began. [Photos, batch 1] Akron (in white uniforms) scored in the 16th minute, when a wide-open header on a crossed ball bounced off the crossbar and was put in the net by another player. Akron scored again in the 32nd minute on a beautiful header off a corner kick. Akron's goalie saved a couple of near-certain goals in the first half, allowing his team to go into halftime break with a 2-0 lead. Akron opened the second-half scoring in the 53rd minute on a wonderfully-placed free kick from 25 yards out. Akron's fourth goal, on an unassisted run, came in the 65th minute. After some tough luck and valiant saves by Akron's goalie, Michigan State finally got through in the 79th minute, scoring in the skirmish that followed a corner kick. Akron made the final score 5-1, finding the net again on a corner kick in the 85th minute.
The second semifinal match was between Indiana and Maryland. The tournament is being broadcast on one of Fox's sports channels, so TV cameras are present, as are electronic advertising banners, marching bands, and, of course, heavy security. [Photos, batch 2] In a fairly slow, defensive first half, Maryland (in white uniforms) opened the scoring in the 37th minute on a rebound from a corner kick, holding on to its 1-0 lead at halftime. Entering the last 30 minutes of the match, Indiana was energized, trying to even up the score, while Maryland was slowing down the tempo to protect its lead. Maryland scored again in the 80th minute, prevailing 2-0 and earning the right to play Akron on Sunday for the championship. My money is on Akron. [Video snippet]

2018/12/06 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Engineering and its various subareas: Word soup (1) What's in a Discipline's Name? Thoughts on Enrollment Crisis in Electrical Engineering: During our monthly UCSB/ECE faculty lunch of Tuesday 12/04, a lively discussion ensued about the crisis facing the EE discipline, as students migrate to the more "fashionable" computer science/engineering majors. A number of quick fixes were proposed, such as a PR campaign within high schools, to inform students about career possibilities and the attendant social impact for an EE graduate, and rebranding the major by introducing terms of current interest, such as "energy," in the department's name.
In my opinion, the impact of such cosmetic changes will be limited. Many engineering majors are misnamed, because their outdated names emphasize means and gadgets (how things are/were done) rather than end results (what is done). Within the fields of computer science and engineering, this topic has been discussed from time to time, with no clear resolution.
The name "computer science/engineering," for example, emphasizes the means ("computer") rather than the end ("information"). And this is true of the names of the field's most-prominent professional organizations, IEEE Computer Society and Association for Computing Machinery. Imagine names such as "telescope science" for cosmology, "microscope science" for microbiology, "car/vehicle science" for transportation engineering, and "aircraft science" for aerospace engineering! The old name "data processing" is perhaps more descriptive than "computer science," but it is now rather dated. The Europeans' choice of "informatics" turned out to be very forward-looking.
The need for thoughtful and precise naming is also evident for subdisciplines. Careless creation of terminology has brought about various subdiscipline names that to a great extent overlap with one another and lack clear delineation and purpose. Engineers and scientists must be taught and constantly reminded about the importance of a name reflecting the precise content and boundaries of what is being named. We are deluged with new terms such as "cyber-physical systems," "big data," "cloud computing," "fog computing," and "wireless sensor networks," most of which will fade, like so many of their predecessors.
Returning to my original point, what we now call "electrical engineering" at UCSB is really a collection of four subject areas that would be better called "information engineering," "material engineering," "communications engineering," and "control engineering," with each of the four areas overlapping with the activities and specialties in our other engineering departments; Other EE/ECE departments may also be concerned with "energy engineering." Electricity is no longer a defining attribute of these endeavors.
Isn't it time we organized engineering by ends rather than means?
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Mike Pence lies just as readily as Donald Trump, but he is less obvious about it!
- When thugs high-five each other and their stooge watches wistfully, because he's been told not to join in!
- Fatalities and dozens of injuries reported in suicide attack on a police post in the Iranian city of Chabahar.
- Huawei executive arrested by Canadian authorities, on US's request, for violating sanctions against Iran.
- How unsuspecting US veterans were used to funnel money from Saudi Arabia to the Trump Organization.
- Independent press? Fox News' Sean Hannity tells potential witnesses to criminal acts not to talk to FBI.
(3) Michael Flynn court document is the tip of a huge iceberg: His cooperation with Mueller apparently has aided a couple of secret investigations about which we don't know much.

2018/12/05 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover of 'Santa Barbara Independent' about the 2018 College Cup NCAA Soccer Cup 2018 logo Soccer action from a past College Cup (1) NCAA College Cup in Santa Barbara: Even though UCSB is not participating this year (it was eliminated early on), the top four men's soccer teams will be coming to town to play the semifinals (Friday, 12/7, 5:00 PM and 7:45 PM) and the final match (Sunday, 12/9, 5:00 PM). I will be going to all three games. The semifinals pairings are as follows. Akron, which beat Stanford 3-2, will play Michigan State, 2-1 victor over James Madison, at 5:00 PM. In the 7:45 PM match, Indiana, which prevailed over Notre Dame 1-0, will face Maryland, 1-0 victor over Kentucky. This is the second time UCSB hosts the College Cup and will do it again in December 2020 (the 2019 edition will be in Cary, NC). One reason for UCSB being favored by NCAA is its perennially strong soccer program and the large, enthusiastic crowds it attracts from among students and other Santa Barbara residents, shattering NCAA attendance records and gaining UCSB the nickname "Soccer Heaven."
(2) Today's funeral service for George H. W. Bush at Washington Cathedral was very dignified and full of interesting anecdotes and great humor. Perhaps only events like this can bring us Americans together, but we can't wish for more of them. RIP!
(3) ACM 2018 Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct: Almost all professional organizations develop and maintain an ethics code, spelling out the expected behavior of their members. Association for Computing Machinery's previous code, adopted in 1992, is being revised this year. The third draft of the new code is now available for previewing and comments.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- We need to restore faith in science, as the anti-vaxxer movement gains additional adherents.
- Researcher detained in Iran: Mullahs deem scholars in demography and population studies seditionists.
- Cartoon of the day: "People don't grasp the short-term consequences of saving the planet!" [Image]
- East-meets-West music: Casbah Shuffle on sitar, by Ashwin Batish (Sitar Power Band). [14-minute video]
- Ara Malikian performs "Misirlou" (the 1963 song, which was used as the theme of the movie "Pulp Fiction").
- Apt reminder, as we feast during the holidays, to open our hearts and wallets to the needy and the hungry.
- For every problem, there is an ingenious solution: Some methods of opening locked home or car doors.
(5) An unusual day in Goleta: We had periods of wind-driven rain that made an umbrella all but useless. The rain continued, at a gentler pace, as I took this photo of the Devereux Slough in the evening. I had my last classes for the quarter and will be done with teaching after my final exam on Monday and some grading tasks.

2018/12/04 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
An unusually clear view of the SB Channel Islands from the UCSB campus (due to high winds) The top half of the Christmas tree at the Camino Real Marketplace Useful gadget: Video doorbell that records hours of video and communicates with a smartphone app, photographed at Goleta Costco (1) Today in Goleta, CA: [Left] An unusually clear view of the SB Channel Islands from the UCSB campus. [Center] The top half of the Christmas tree at the Camino Real Marketplace. [Right] Useful gadget: Video doorbell that records hours of video and communicates with a smartphone app, photographed at Goleta Costco.
(2) Mind-boggling predictions for the next 7 billion years: Take these 41 predictions with a grain of salt. They range from the Jeddah Tower becoming the tallest building in the world in 2020, through completion of Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid in Tokyo in 2110 and Chernobyl becoming habitable once again in the year 20,000, to the Earth being sucked by a vastly expanded Sun in 7.59 billion years, ending all life as we know it.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Massive ground-beef recall: More than 12M lbs, with "EST. 267" stamped inside the USDA inspection mark.
- Trump cannot win the fight he started against General Motors, says Robert Reich in this opinion piece.
- Trump tries to hijack the Paris protests: He claims the protesters chant that they want Trump!
- Trump inflames or creates problems and later claims credit for half-baked solutions to those problems.
- A least-surprising revelation: MBS ordered and monitored the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
- California's Camp Fire "burns" an insurance company, whose liabilities are nearly three times its assets.
(4) Rising budget deficits during an economic boom: The US budget deficit ballooned after the 2008 crash, to save the economy. Then, it began declining, as the economy improved. Now, despite continued economic growth, deficits are rising, a highly unusual occurrence in good economic times.
(5) A robot in space: The spherical AI robot CIMON aboard the International Space Station communicates with IBM's Watson on Earth, so it can engage with the ISS crew. In one trial, CIMON identified and recognized an astronaut's face, took photos and video, positioned itself autonomously within a module via ultrasonic sensors, and issued instructions for the crew member to perform an experiment.
(6) Kronos Quartet, featuring Mahsa Vahdat: An amazing concert at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight! [Images] The program, "Music for Change: The Banned Countries," included selections from Azerbaijan, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Mali, and several pieces from Iran, including a Kurdish encore, all arranged in the Quartet's unique musical style. Ms. Vahdat performed some of her own compositions based on poems by Hafez and Mowlavi (Rumi). Video recording was disallowed, so here's similar music from YouTube. [Mahsa Vahdat's "Dorna" and "Avaaz-e Shoushtari"] [Kronos Quartet's "Tiny Desk Concert"]

2018/12/03 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
32-legged robot, built by Japan's Keio and Tokyo Universities Cartoon: Social-media bullying and hate speech are on the rise, thanks to the Bully-and-Insulter-in-Chief! Types of nuts, excluding nuts like me and you! (1) Tech-related images: [Left] This 32-legged robot, built by Japan's Keio and Tokyo Universities, can move in any direction by extending, retracting, and bending its legs. It is ideal for planetary explorations and disaster-zone operations. (Image credit: IEEE Spectrum magazine) [Center] Social-media bullying and hate speech are on the rise, thanks to the Bully-and-Insulter-in-Chief! [Right] Types of nuts, excluding nuts like me and you!
(2) Spelling- and grammar-challenged people aren't safe in cyber-space: Rudy Giuliani failed to insert a space after a period, thus inadvertently creating a link to "G-20.In" within his tweet. Someone claimed that URL and posted a derogatory comment about Trump, to be seen by anyone who clicks on the link! [Tweet image]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Prosecutors say former Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy received laundered foreign money.
- Chelsea Clinton posted this photo of her family with George H. W. Bush, recalling his decency and kindness.
- Humor: "It's now 2018; that's the highest-number year under any president!" ~ Donald John Trump
- Quote: "You don't lead by hitting people over the head—that's assault, not leadership." ~ Dwight Eisenhower
- Persian music: Mahsa Vahdat performs "Dorna" (traditional vocal style in a modern musical framework).
(4) Book review: Gilbert, Elizabeth, The Signature of All Things: A Novel, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Juliet Stevenson, Penguin Audio, 2013. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image for Elizabeth Gilbert's 'The Signature of All Things' With this book, Gilbert returns to fiction, producing another typically delightful book. The characters are so carefully researched and elaborately described that the story, unfolding in the 18th and 19th centuries, reads like a historical treatise.
The central character is Alma, the bright daughter of Henry Whittaker, a man who went from rags (in England) to riches (in Philadelphia). Alma, with her curious mind and insatiable appetite for knowledge, ultimately becomes a botanist and falls in love with Ambrose Pike, another curious soul who is an orchid-painting utopian artist. Alma and Ambrose share a passion for understanding the workings of our world and the wonders of life.
Quite a few other characters and diverse geographic locales appear in the story, adding to its richness, as it explores deep ideas in science, religion, and commerce, and how these notions influenced the course of human history. An enjoyable read that also teaches the reader a great deal!
(5) Final thought for the day: G-mail now offers suggested replies to e-mails you receive ("smart replies"), as if we need to become even more machine-like in our interpersonal communications.

2018/12/02 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Skateboarding in New York City, 1965 Abraham Lincoln's inauguration, 1861 Albert Einstein lecturing on relativity, 1922 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Skateboarding in New York City, 1965 (Credit: Life magazine). [Center] Abraham Lincoln's inauguration, 1861. [Right] Albert Einstein lecturing on relativity, 1922.
(2) Happy Hanukkah to all who observe the Jewish Festival of Light. Hanukkah, which begins tonight, comes around Christmas, but the exact date fluctuates due to Hebrew calendar's lunar year being about 11 days shorter than our solar year. Jewish holidays fluctuate, rather than move throughout the year, because every 2-3 years (7 times in each 19-year cycle, to be exact), an extra month is added to the calendar to put it back in step with the seasons and the Grogorian calendar. There are also occasional one-day adjustments to two other calendar months to prevent certain Jewish holidays from falling on specific days of the week. Therefore, a common Jewish year may have three different lengths: 353, 354, 355 days. The 13-month "leap year" also has three possible lengths: 383, 384, 385 days. TimeandDate.com has an article on "The Jewish Leap Year."
(3) Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is being investigated for sexual misconduct: The alleged conducts are serious, and, if proven true, inexcusable. I like Tyson's wit and his efforts to bring science to the masses. But we can't have different standards for people we like and those we disdain. I will follow up on this story and will post again when I learn more.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Defense Secretary Mattis reveals that there is evidence Putin tried to interfere in our midterm elections.
- Paul Manfort could face more charges, increasing his jail time and the probability of turning against Trump.
- Mexicans outraged: Jared Kushner is awarded Mexico's highest honor, the Order of the Aztec Eagle.
- National Geographic's best photos of 2018 (curated): A feast for you eyes and mind.
- Persian music: The pop duo Andy and Kouros perform "Niloufar" on a concert stage.
- A beautiful performance, with masterful solos, of a piece by Niccolo Paganini at the Venice Carnival.
(5) For-profit conferences: Just like pay-to-publish journals which do little for scientific progress but fill the pockets of their publishers through "open-access publication fees," conferences are proliferating around the world to make money and to generate fake honors for their organizers and scores of people typically included on their technical program committees. By sending e-mails exemplified in the following fragment (copied verbatim from one of the many invitations I receive weekly), they stroke potential participants' egos, often in very poor English, to lure them into submitting papers and paying the conference fees.
"We came across your research work. You are a frontier with a multitude of experience and skill who can offer an in-depth explanation of the advancements and innovations. ... We wish to have your gracious presence as a Speaker to give an Oral presentation at our upcoming, Joint Conference on ..."

2018/12/01 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
An isolated and despised Trump at the G20 Summit Cartoon: He's making a list ... Checking it now ... Gotta find out who's naughty and how ... Robert Mueller's coming to town! New Yorker cartoon: Christmas spirit at the White House (1) Trump-related meme and cartoons: [Left] Trump looked ill-at-ease at the G20 Summit (see item 2 below). [Center] Song of the season: He's making a list ... Checking it now ... Gotta find out who's naughty and how ... Robert Mueller's coming to town! [Right] Christmas spirit at the White House (from The New Yorker).
(2) An isolated and despised Trump at the G20 Summit: Previously, Trump cancelled his meeting with Putin at the G20, blaming Russia's actions in Ukraine. Days after the said actions, until he boarded AF1 to fly to the Summit, he was still saying the two would meet. Only after news broke that Michael Cohen had admitted to lying about his Russia connections did Trump cancel. Now, Trump has cancelled his G20 press conference, citing respect for the Bush family. Since when has he developed this respect? His tweets certainly show no respect for 41, or 43, or 41's other son. Isn't the cancellation due to the fact that he would be asked about Bush, and Putin, and he did not know what to say?
(3) Persian Music: Some early Iranian films were referred to as "aabgooshti movies," because they invariably contained scenes of the protagonist (a man, of course) eating aabgoosht, a popular traditional lamb stew/soup in Iran. Here is a lighthearted song praising aabgoosht and the usual sides that go with it.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- George H. W. Bush, the one-term 41st US President, dies at 94 in Kennebunkport, ME.
- Famous inventions: Dunlop patented the inflatable tire in December 1888 (130 years ago). [Video]
- Some road hazards can be avoided by not driving behind or near vehicles carrying large, awkward loads.
- Humor: One way to force rude young men to yield their seats to a blind girl! [Video]
- Hilarious comedy skit: Conan O'Brien rents a family in Japan and trains the members to laugh at his jokes.
- Mohammad Nouri sings the beautiful oldie "Nazanin-e Maryam" ("Beloved Maryam") in this 9-minute video.
(5) Artificial intelligence is changing the legal industry: Asked whether he could see a day when AI-driven smart machines will assist with courtroom fact-finding or, more controversially even, judicial decision-making, Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts responded: "It's a day that's here and it's putting a significant strain on how the judiciary goes about doing things." This CACM article discusses whether AI judges and juries, with unemotional Vulcan-like reasoning and deduction abilities, are coming to our judicial system.
(6) Tonight's concert by UCSB Middle East Ensemble at Lotte Lehman Concert Hall: The Ensemble is marking its 30th year of activity. The program included Arabic music and dance, along with selections from Armenia, Jewish-Morocco, and Iran. [Photos] The following four videos are represntative of the diverse program.
Video 1: Armenian song/dance, "Khorotik Morotik" ("Flirtatious Love"), with solo vocalist Varduhi Sargsyan.
Video 2: Arabic solo dance, by guest performer Laura Leyl, set to the instrumental composition "Raqs Layla."
Video 3: Armenian song, known as "Sari Aghchik" ("Mountain Girl") or "Vard Sireci" ("I Loved a Rose").
Video 4: Persian dance, choreographed by Shahrzad Khorsandi, set to Mahshid Mirzadeh's "Seh Andarz."

2018/11/30 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Above Valley Falls, West Virginia. Sunset in Izmir, Turkey Bluebell season, England (1) Best Earth Pics: [Left] Above Valley Falls, West Virginia. [Center] Sunset in Izmir, Turkey. [Right] Bluebell season, England.
(2) Missing the good-old days, when small-scale data breaches were considered big news: Now, half a billion Marriott customer accounts are compromised and no one even blinks!
(3) Scientists are trusted to accurately land a craft on Mars but are considered wrong on climate change by a real-estate developer who claims to have a really large brain. [Tweet by Neil deGrasse Tyson]
(4) My home-office: Here is a panoramic view of my study from where I sit at my computer workstation. These photos, taken last night and today, show my study, with a minimalist decorative holiday tree and the two small walls, not covered with bookcases, holding my beloved family photos and various useful maps.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California communities devastated by the deadliest fire in state's history are now coping with flash floods.
- Magnitude-7.0 earthquake rocks Anchorage, Alaska, causing major infrastructure damage. [CNN video]
- Sheryl Sandberg was indeed involved in ordering dirt-digging on George Soros and other Facebook critics.
- Thinking outside the box: How about putting airbags outside as well as inside cars to make crashes safer?
- Persian music: A tribute slide show to the late Mohammad Nouri, featuring his signature song "Nemisheh."
- Oldest depiction of Jesus discovered in the ruined baptistery of the northern church in desert of Shivta.
(6) The power of suggestion: Payless Shoes conducted a social experiment, creating the "Palessi" fictional brand and marking up their $20-$40 shoes about twenty-fold in a shoe boutique. Customers actually bought the obscenely-priced shoes. They got a refund at the end and also got to keep the shoes. Brilliant marketing!
(7) Final thought for the day: "There are many jobs that you can do, and do them well, while believing that the Earth is flat or 6000 years old, but if these are your beliefs, you should not head NASA or be in Congress." ~ Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, in an interview with PBS, aired tonight on "Firing Line" (not an exact quote; reproduced from memory)

2018/11/29 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Germany, 1930s; Iran, 2010s; America, ? Image from NYT article on dwindling insect populations Cartoon: Striking workers in Iran are seeking, and not getting much, solidarity from their fellow Iranians (1) Iran-related cartoons from Iranwire.com, and another cautionary tale from science: [left] Germany, 1930s; Iran, 2010s; America, ? [Center] Image from NYT article on dwindling insect populations (see item 2 below). [Right] Striking workers in Iran are seeking, and not getting much, solidarity from their fellow Iranians.
(2) Why our car windshields are no longer killing grounds for a vast array of insects? Is it because insect populations are dwindling? A joint study by universities in Denmark and the US recruited 200 Danes to drive through a variety of habitats, with their windshields replaced by nets, to test this hypothesis. It is indeed true that insects have fallen prey to a massive loss of biodiversity on Earth, the so-called "Sixth Extinction." Read the highly detailed account, with ample references to previous studies about the trend and its potential impacts on our lives, in this New York Times article.
(3) Genetically-edited twins born: A Chinese scientist, who claims to have been involved in producing the first human beings (twin baby girls) born with edited genomes, is facing skepticism and criticism. Of course, the feasibility of such a feat isn't in doubt, but ethical considerations had prevented other scientists from attempting gene-editing on humans. It is the background of the Chinese scientist, who had never before presented his work publicly, save for a handful of YouTube videos, that fuels the skepticism.
(4) An interesting account of what's in store for NASA's new Mars lander, before it begins its explorations in a few months, and why it takes so long to get started. [Space.com article]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump is stuck in 19th-century mining/manufacturing jobs, while businesses want to pivot toward high-tech.
- Trump floats the idea of pardoning Manafort; others doubt he'd be willing to pay the huge political cost.
- Trump's former attorney/fixer admits to lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Russia.
- Apt response to Trump's "I don't believe it" reaction to his administration's climate-change impact report.
- At last: Heavy rain in Santa Barbara! [Photos, from Thursday, November 29]
(6) These figures (with captions) from an article published in the October 2018 issue of IEEE Computer tell an interesting story about how women have been viewed/treated in computing, to the detriment of our country. [Citation: Hicks, Marie, "When Winning Is Losing: Why the Nation that Invented the Computer Lost Its Lead," IEEE Computer, Vol. 51, No. 10, pp. 48-57, October 2018.]

2018/11/28 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Trump and evangelicals: Strange bedfellows (cartoon) Trump to Merkel: 'You guys in Berlin had a terrific wall.' (Cartoon)  Meme of the day: Clown Prince Donald bin Fred al Trump (1) Trump-related humor: [Left] Trump and evangelicals: Strange bedfellows. [Center] Trump to Merkel: "You guys in Berlin had a terrific wall." [Right] Meme of the day: Clown Prince Donald bin Fred al Trump.
(2) Robots to the rescue: Walking and swimming robots are used to investigate Fukushima's failed reactors to find out where the fuel (lethal for centuries) has gone. The robots help produce 3D virtual-reality models of the reactors' insides for humans to explore. The site has turned into a robotics research laboratory. [CBS report]
(3) Whose life was ruined? Brett Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court and has gone back to coaching girls' basketball. Christine Blasey-Ford continues to receive death threats.
(4) Disdain for science: Donald Trump and his press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismiss the findings of a climate report issued over the Thanksgiving weekend, based on the work of 300 scientists and 13 federal agencies. We have a President who acts as his own economic adviser, climate scientist, and diplomatic corps!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US midterm election results were a mixed bag for science: A number of senior, experienced lawmakers who were champions of research funding were ousted.
- Thin-skinned President walks away when fact-checked by a CBS reporter.
- Shahrzad Nazifi, a Baha'i and the first female motocross champion in Iran, has been arrested.
- The Age of Megafires: A prophetic report, first aired 11 years ago by CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes"!
- A wonderful performance of "Despacito" by a piano-cello duo.
- Amazon patents an airbag that is inflated by a drone before dropping a package for delivery.
- This 2-year-old time-lapse video from NASA shows the disappearing arctic ice over the period 1991-2016.
- Most-dangerous countries to visit: I was surprised to learn that nearly all parts of Iran are rated very safe.
(6) To Kill a Mockingbird: The beloved novel is becoming a Broadway play for a modern audience, to open in December, 58 years after the book was published and 56 years after the release of a successful movie based on it. Jeff Daniels will play attorney Atticus Finch, the role that earned Gregory Peck an Oscar. [CBS report]

2018/11/27 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Poster: Stop violence against women! The art of rock-balancing: A giant foot Breaking the chains, on the way to freedom (1) An important cause, and some art: [Left] The most dangerous place for women is home: More than half of worldwide female murder victims last year were killed by their partners or family members, according to a new UN report. [Center] The art of rock-balancing: Giant foot in Zurich, Switzerland (artist unknown; photographed by Ms. Shirin Dabir). [Right] Breaking the chains, on the way to freedom.
(2) Cities used to burn to the ground all the time until the 1920s: Then, we started to do the equivalent of vaccination by developing fire codes and using fire-resistant building materials. Once cities stopped burning, we grew complacent and wavered in strict enforcement of fire codes. It's time to go back to the drawing board and use the knowledge we have gained to avoid another Paradise-like catastrophe.
(3) WSJ Econ 101: Trump boasts that his new tariffs are pouring money into the US coffers, not knowing, or conveniently forgetting, that those same tariffs lead to higher prices, a form of regressive tax on all Americans.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Major snowstorm causes thousands of flight cancellations in United States' Midwest region.
- Firing of tear gas and closing of US entry escalate the crisis at US-Mexico border.
- Magnitude-6.3 quake in Iran, centered near Sarpol-e Zahab, injures hundreds in Kermanshah and vicinity.
- The prophetic film "Network" comes to the stage: Artistic version of "Fake News" by playwright Lee Hall!
- Humor: When the pool's on-duty lifeguard has to take a bathroom break! [Video]
- Azeri music: Wonderful song performed by the Rastak Ensemble, accompanied by a guest singer. [Video]
- Persian music: Two young girls perform (violin and vocals) the oldie song "Simin Bari" on a street in Tehran.
- Persian Music: Beautiful oldie, performed with smiles and joy. The performers are unknown to me. [Video]
(5) "First Man," a "Script to Screen" presentation at UCSB's Pollock Theater: The acclaimed 2018 film, telling the story of America's space program in the decade leading to the 1969 moon landing, was screened tonight, followed by a moderated discussion with its Oscar-winning screenwriter Josh Singer. The film is based on James R. Hansen's book by the same title. The film's central character is Neil Armstrong. Even though there is admirable attention to technical details, with eye-popping special effects, the real focus of the film is the emotional travails of Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling), as well as other astronauts and their families, when faced with intensive training and high-risk space missions. A flyer along with a few pages of the screenplay were distributed to the audience. [Images]

2018/11/26 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) Mars landing: After its 7-month journey from Earth and 7-minute descent through the Martian atmosphere, the landing module of NASA's InSight Probe touched down on Mars just before noon, PST, today. A manned mission to Mars for the 2030s is said to be in planning stages. [Video]
(2) US State Department report: Khashoggi's problems first arose not because he criticized Saudi leaders, but because he criticized Donald Trump. This explains Trump's weak reaction to the gruesome killing.
(3) Informatics Society of Iran (ISI) turns 40: This momentous anniversary was celebrated last Wednesday, 2018/11/21, in Tehran. As the lead founder of the Society in 1978 and its President for the first 5 years of its existence, I was asked to send a special message to its members. [2-minute Persian video message]
This Google Drive contains a number of videos related to Informatics Society of Iran's 40th-anniversary celebration. Titles of and inks to individual MP4 Persian-language videos on the drive follow. [Introducing ISI] [Message from Dr. Parhami] [ISI Teaser] [ISI Reminiscences] [ISI Activities]
(4) Applying ML & NLP at Google Ads: This was the title of a talk by Dr. Kazoo Sone (Google software engineer) on machine learning and natural-language processing, as applied at Google Ads.
Dr. Sone discussed the difficulties of supervised learning, in view of its need for vast amounts of labeled data. Even though it appears that Google does enjoy access to vast amounts of data, the portion of the data that is labeled is often inadequate for training strong supervised learning models. Using examples from quality improvement efforts for search ads, Dr. Sone described some of Google's challenges and experiences, both from the machine-learning perspective and the NLP research that links an ad's performance to its writing style, particularly what words in ads influence our decision-making. [Some slides]
One annoying feature of such talks is that a lot of buzzwords are thrown around and claims made, with little technical depth. This is a direct consequence of companies wanting to hold on to technical know-how for fear of rivals using the knowledge, which is utterly incompatible with a university's mission to spread knowledge.
(5) UCSB Faculty Research Lecture: Each year, a UCSB colleague is honored as Faculty Research Lecturer and tasked with delivering a public lecture to describe his/her leading-edge discoveries to the campus community. The 2018 honoree, my ECE colleague Professor Umesh K. Mishra, spoke at Corwin Pavilion this afternoon under the title "Thank God for Gallium Nitride."
The development of blue and white LEDs by Nobel Laureate and UCSB colleague Shuji Nakamura generated much excitement about Gallium Nitride (GaN), whose applications have spread beyond general lighting to lasers, horticulture, and electronics. Hybrid and electric vehicles, data servers, solar inverters, robotics, gaming, and communications across a large band of interests are all being served by GaN in important ways.
Professor Mishra described his research results on GaN and its varied applications, characterizing it as the miracle material that keeps on giving. Borrowing a phrase from former President Obama, the speaker ended his talk with the slogan "Yes We GaN"! [Some slides]

2018/11/25 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Isfahan City Festival, Iran: Photo 1 Isfahan City Festival, Iran: Photo 2 Isfahan City Festival, Iran: Photo 3 Isfahan City Festival, Iran: Photo 4 Isfahan City Festival, Iran: Photo 5 Isfahan City Festival, Iran: Photo 6 (1) Isfahan Festival: Locals don traditional costumes and demonstrate arts/crafts for which Isfahan is famous.
(2) About town on a beautiful sunny Sunday: Having lunch with the kids at Hamburger Habit in Isla Vista, photographing the birds of the US Pacific Coast at Campus Poing Beach and UCSB Lagoon, and capturing the beauty of the southeastern end of the UCSB campus in photos and a 1-minute video.
(3) Beautiful Iran: This time-lapse video captures Isfahan's sights and culture. By the number of items I have posted about Isfahan, you can probably tell that I have an Isfahani friend feeding me videos and other posts about the historic city!
(4) Music/dance video: This French tune entitled "Natalie" was quite popular in Iran during my youth. In it, the singer reminisces about a beautiful guide he had when he visited Moscow's Red Square.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Saudi Arabia joins Trump in spreading doubts about CIA's credibility.
- Words and actions from "The Lion King" versus "The Lying King": Some similarities. [Video]
- Hi-tech transportation: The airplane that transports airplanes! [Video]
- Lo-tech transportation: Transporting sheep on a bicycle! [Video]
- Quote: "When you feel dog-tired at night, it may be because you've growled all day long." ~ Anonymous
- Final thought for the day: "There are as many martyrs for bad causes as for good ones." ~ Anonymous

2018/11/24 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Our perfect-attendance photo with all 18 family members present, taken today as part of Thanksgiving-weekend gathering (1) Perfect-attendance photo with all family members present, taken today as part of Thanksgiving gathering.
- My mom, the 89-year-old family matriarch, with all of her 7 grandkids and both great-grandkids. [Photo]
- My mom photographed separately with each of her 4 children, alongside his/her family. [Photo collection]
(2) With light-weight material, spraying particles into the Earth's atmosphere or installing space reflectors may prove feasible in a decade or two for slowing down global warming.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Anti-government protests turn violent in Paris: Police fires tear gas into the crowd. [Images]
- Chilling repetition of history: The "failing" New York Times was at it, spreading "Fake News," 80 years ago.
- Subject explains global warming to know-it-all King. [Tweet images]
- IEEE uses a photo from its Iran Section (or is it Turkey?) in its campaign to attract more student members.
- Quote of the day: "To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved." ~ George Macdonald
- "My warning about social media has had 50,000 retweets." [Cartoon credit: E&T magazine, Nov. 2018]
(4) Serendipitous learning: The freshman seminar I teach this quarter meets in UCSB's Humanities and Social Sciences Building. Walking to class and having a few minutes to kill one day last week, I looked at a few posters on the hallway's walls. This particular poster reports on a study that demonstrates positive correlation between milk DHA levels and PISA math scores in 26 nations, once statistically controlled for per-capita GDP.
(5) Final thought for the day: "Never try to reason the prejudice out of a man. It was not reasoned into him, and cannot be reasoned out." ~ Sydney Smith

2018/11/23 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Woke up to a sunny post-Thanksgiving Friday, with gorgeous blue skies: Nothing black about it! Mount Damavand, a dormant volcano which is Iran's tallest peak, shot from Poloor by an anonymous friend My daughter's apple-pie creation for Thanksgiving (1) Beauty, natural and human-made: [Left] Woke up to a sunny post-Thanksgiving Friday, with gorgeous blue skies: Nothing black about it! [Center] Mount Damavand, a dormant volcano which is Iran's tallest peak, shot from Poloor by an anonymous friend. [Right] My daughter's apple-pie creation for Thanksgiving.
(2) The Bully-in-Chief hears back from many Twitter users about his stance that lower oil prices are more important than holding Saudi Arabia accountable for its crimes. [Tweet image]
(3) Advice to MBS: Don't delude yourself that you are safe because Trump stands by you and even thanks you! The American people and the rest of the world will hold you accountable.
(4) Iran's Mountain-Climbing Association (a government entity) has announced that women need permission from their husbands or male guardians before going hiking or climbing.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- CIA may have recording of MBS ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
- The lies continue to pile up! [Trump lied when he said CIA didn't link Saudi Prince to Khashoggi killing."]
- Deadly wildfires, hurricanes, and heat waves, already battering the United States, will worsen over time.
- Isaac Larian: Man who left the Iran's slums as a teen now runs one of America's biggest toy companies.
- iPad magic: There are quite a few digital-magic-trick videos like this one on the Internet.
- Quote: "A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel good." ~ Comedian Steven Wright
(6) Facebook knew about Russians interfering in US election more than a year before publicly admitting it: Then it hired a PR firm to control the damage and dig dirt on critics.
(7) Trump calls reports about his displeasure with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin "Fake News," adding that they never ask him about such cases, because it would ruin their stories.
No, Donald; they don't ask you because you lie!
(8) Beliefs of Brits and British Christians: The only subject about which Brits as a whole are more positive than the Christians among them is alien-life/UFOs. On karma and magic, there is little difference between Brits and British Christians. [Chart from E&T magazine, issue of November 2018]

2018/11/22 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
John Wayne at 23 years old, 1930 The Beatles, on stage in Paris, 1965 Young Clint Eastwood, undated photo (1) Film and music history in pictures: [Left] John Wayne at 23 years old, 1930. [Center] The Beatles, on stage in Paris, 1965. [Right] Young Clint Eastwood, undated photo.
(2) Happy Thanksgiving Day to all my family members and friends, especially to my three children. May you all have an abundance of things for which to be thankful and may our relationships and friendships have better fates than the Thanksgiving-Day turkey! [Image]
(3) It's official now: The 2018 US midterm election results saw Republicans suffer the worst House defeat in US history. [Source: Newsweek magazine]
(4) Jeff Sessions is no hero: It's tempting to praise Sessions, because he stood up to Trump on certain issues and was bullied by him. But examining his record as AG leaves no doubt that he is a regressive individual living in the past and wanting to reverse decades of US civil rights gains.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Samsung is investing heavily on its foldable smartphone: Apple is sure to follow suit. [Source: Newsweek]
- Iran exevutes the "Gold-Coins King": He must have stepped on the toes of other grand thieves! [Cartoon]
- Teachers' strike in Iran leads to a wave of arrests.
- Female singers, who are banned by Iran's government, hold underground concerts through acquaintances.
(6) Chief of Staff John Kelly accused Fox News' Jeanine Pirro of "inflaming an already vexed Trump," when she told him in the Oval Office that he should get the DoJ to investigate H. Clinton for the Uranium One deal.
(7) Pot calling the kettle black: Turkish officials have condenmned the "comical" Trump stance on MBS. Of course, Turkey scarecely has a better human-rights record than Saudi Arabia.
(8) Persian music: Much of the pre-Islamic-Revolution music and other art forms are no longer shown on Iran's state TV, but people recuperate and cherish them in private gatherings and, when they can, on the streets.
(9) Persian music: Hossein Khajeh-Amiri, aka Iraj, and Salar Aghili perform "Aavaay-e Iran" ("The Voice of Iran") in this 6-minute video production sponsored by the Export Bank of Iran. [Other credits in the video]

2018/11/21 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
More heart-wrenching scenes from November 2018 California wildfires: Photo 1 More heart-wrenching scenes from November 2018 California wildfires: Photo 2 More heart-wrenching scenes from November 2018 California wildfires: Photo 3 (1) Three more heart-wrenching photos from November 2018 California wildfires.
(2) Advice about tech and social media: People sound tough and in control, but they are scared and confused behind the fake facade. We should take control of our lives back from constant distraction by non-stop connectivity. [10-minute video, with Persian subtitles]
(3) Middle-age American men are threatened more by loneliness than by consequences of obesity or smoking: A 2017 Boston Globe article, expertly translated into Persian by Farnaz Seifi.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump wanted to order the DoJ to prosecute H. Clinton and J. Comey, but his lawyers wouldn't comply.
- A new breed of legislators arrive in Washington, ready to swim with and defeat swamp creatures! [Tweet]
- Report: Religion is blamed for violence against women. Me: Duh! [Source: Newsweek magazine]
- Cartoon of the day: Natural disasters hit California! [Image]
- Pinpointing one of our dilemmas: "Knowledge is power. Ignorance is bliss. Tough choice!" ~ Anonymous
- Humor: Perils of traveling abroad without knowing the local language. [1-minute video]
- Santa Barbara in late November: Today, on the east side of the UCSB Campus. [Photos]
- Fortune cookies have been giving me wonderful advice of late: "Delight in a friend's success." [Images]
(5) Quote of the day: "The myth holds that Trump is a tough guy who fights back. In fact, he is a fragile man running out of safe places to hide." ~ Author and CNN commentator Michael D'Antonio
(6) The Holiday Season is upon us and, with it, come holiday scams followed by tax scams (fraudulently filing your taxes and getting your refund). Be particularly vigilant with your charity donations over the next month, as scammers position themselves to take advantage of the holiday spirit.
(7) Human-rights report: Saudi Arabia electrocuted, flogged, and sexually abused female activists. Meanwhile, on the eve of Thanksgiving Day, Trump has indicated that he is grateful to Saudis for helping lower oil prices. How low have we sunk as a nation to thank murderous thugs for saving us a few cents on a gallon of gas?
(8) Trump attacks the judiciary again: "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges." ~ Chief SCOTUS Justice John Roberts, after Trump berated a judge as "an Obama Judge" (Trump dismissed Roberts comments in subsequent tweets)

2018/11/20 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Example of devastation from California wildfires Brexit commemorative 50p coin Humor: Californians take Trump's suggestions to heart! (1) Reality and some political humor: [Left] Example of devastation from California wildfires. [Center] Brexit commemorative 50p coin. [Right] Preventing wildfires: Californians take Trump's suggestions to heart!
(2) After dissing the late Senator John McCain for being captured, bone-spurs Donnie attacks highly decorated retired Admiral William McRaven for not killing Osama Bin Laden sooner. Are our military leaders asleep? Why are they putting up with this nonsense?
(3) Quote of the day: "The old cliche about laughter being the best medicine turns out to be true, which is good because that's what the current administration is trying to replace Obamacare with." ~ Julia Louis-Dreyfus, while accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in October 2018
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Private e-mail account: Let's recycle Trump's old tweets, with Hilary Clinton replaced by Ivanka Trump.
- WH staff is bracing for tweetstorms during Trump's unsupervised time at Mar-a-Lago over Thanksgiving.
- Alarm bells go off as a Kremlin-backed Russian becomes one of two nominees to run Interpol.
- CDC issues an unusually broad warning against eating romaine lettuce in any form and from any source.
- Cartoon Collections: If you like New Yorker's cartoons, this Web site, has many of those, and more.
- I have been following this fortune-cookie advice for several years now and it seems to be working!
- Beautiful Azeri music and dance: No info about performers or venue. [4-minute video]
- Iranian Music: Sepidar Ensemble performs Qajar-era music in a historic palace setting. [27-minute video]
(5) Because of his hatred toward Iran, Trump stands by murderous MBS: "In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran."
(6) It's now certain the WH Chief of Staff John Kelly will be replaced: Ivanka, Jared, and Trump's two sons have their favorite (Mike Pence's young Chief of Staff), but Kelly has his supporters among WH insiders too.

2018/11/19 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Multi-player computer game from the 1990s Fireman's bicycle, 1905 Car hi-fi system, 1960 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Multi-player computer game from the 1990s. [Center] Fireman's bicycle, 1905. [Right] Car hi-fi system, 1960s.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Mitch McConnell takes hypocrisy to the next level by accusing Democrats of partisan politics. [Quotes]
- Leaked SMS texts from an insecure Voxox server exposed password resets and two-factor codes.
- Persian Music: A beautiful performance of the golden oldie "Beh Esfahan Ro" ("Go to Isfahan").
- This little girl won't let no freaking pigeon take away food that is hers! [1-minute video]
- Tehran University's College of Engineering is utterly inaccessible to wheelchair-bound individuals. [Image]
- Drivers helping a man who seems to have car trouble are pleasantly surprised!
- Good for a chuckle: What did the janitor say when he jumped out of the closet? ... Supplies!
- Cartoon of the day, as we approach Thanksgiving: "No giblets, but there's an organ-donor card." [Image]
The bulletin board outside my UCSB office, updated today with cover images of my existing and forthcoming books (3) Bulletin board outside my UCSB office, updated today with cover images of my published and forthcoming books.
(4) Concealed Online: For-profit pro-gun entity that was among the biggest spenders on Facebook political ads during the 2018 US midterm elections.
(5) Black Friday: A day when Americans trample others to get to on-sale items, exactly one day after giving thanks for all the things they have.
(6) Translated into English from a church posting in France: If you want to talk to God, enter, choose a quiet place, and talk to Him. If you want to see Him, send him a text message while driving.
(7) Quote of the day: "The course of history is directed by the choices we make and our choices grow out of the ideas, the beliefs, the values, the dreams of the people. It is not so much the powerful leaders that determine our destiny as the much more powerful influence of the combined voice of the people themselves." ~ Eleanor Roosevelt, writing shortly before her 1962 passing
(8) Newsletter headline, referring to NYT story that Harvard, Stanford, and other universities want to address tech's ethical dark side: Universities Look to Bring "Medicine-Like Morality to Computer Science." Me: Oh no!

2018/11/18 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Trump's presidency is in many ways similar to Nixon's, with the crookedness vastly amplified MAGA wall-building block set Trump toilet-cleaning brush (1) Trump-related designs: [Left] Trump's presidency is in many ways similar to Nixon's, with the crookedness vastly amplified. [Center] MAGA wall-building block set. [Right] Trump toilet-cleaning brush.
(2) And now, some humor from the man-child in the White House: "The White House is running very smoothly and the results for our Nation are obviously very good. We are the envy of the world. But anytime I even think about making changes, the FAKE NEWS MEDIA goes crazy, always seeking to make us look as bad as possible! Very dishonest!" ~ DJT tweet
(3) Look who's giving lessons on decorum: Trump has said that he'll walk out of press conferences if reporters are rude to him. Perhaps reporters should reciprocate the next time he says "What a stupid question"!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Northern California fire death toll now at 71, with ~1000 missing. The area has world's worst air quality.
- Devastating fire in SoCal's Malibu area stopped moving westward only when it reached the Pacific Ocean.
- Horse survived California wildfire by taking shelter in a pool: It was shivering uncontrollably when rescued.
- More than 200 mass graves found in areas of Iraq formerly controlled by ISIS, according to a UN report.
- Saudi Arabia beheads Indonesian maid for killing her boss as he was raping her.
- Someone who voted at the last minute is smiling: Democrat wins Kentucky House race by a single vote!
(5) The Metric System redefined: On Friday, October 16, 2018, representatives from 60 different countries voted unanimously to rid the Metric System of its dependence on physical objects, such as the platinum-iridium cylinder (stored under lock and key in France) that defined the kilogram. Everything is now defined in terms of fundamental constants of nature, making the units more accurate and easily reproducible, even on Mars.
(6) "Leave No Trace": In this 2018 movie, screened at UCSB's Pollock Theater as part of the "Script to Screen" series on Saturday 11/17, a man (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, offering a superb performance) have lived off the grid, in a forest near Portland, Oregon, for years. The father is a PTSD-suffering veteran who wants to be on his own. The daughter accompanies him, despite yearning for a social life and a phone! Their idyllic life is shattered, when both are placed into social services and taken to live on a farm. After clashing with their new surroundings, the pair set off on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland. The early part of the film is based on the true story of a man and a young girl brought in from their forest dwelling. Peter Rock turned it into the novel My Abandonment, on which the movie is based. The film screening was followed by a moderated discussion with Director/Co-Writer Debra Granik. [Images]
(7) UCSB Faculty Artist Recital: World-renowned flutist and Music Department Professor Jill Felber performed at Karl Geiringer Hall, accompanied by the Nexus String Quartet [Program/bios/photos]. An enjoyable performance in an intimate setting; one of the perks of working at a major university with wonderful artists and arts departments. A variation from the first piece on the program, a composition for flute and string quartet by composer/pianist Amy Marcy Cheney Beach [1867-1944], is captured in this 1-minute video. A short sample from Mozart's String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K. 465, "Dissonance," performed by the Nexus String Quartet appears in this 2-minute video.

2018/11/17 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) Book review: Moshfegh, Ottessa, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Julia Whelan, Penguin Audio, 2018. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image for Ottessa Moshfegh's 'My Year of Rest and Relaxation' This novel is set in the year 2000, when an anti-social twenty-something woman, fired from her job and with an inheritance to sustain her, decides to cut off from the world and lead a drug-addled existence pent-up in her apartment. Moshfegh has received a great deal of attention for this novel and other works.
The novel isn't just about the protagonist's year of rest and relaxation, but has flashbacks to other parts of her life. Moshfegh's story comes across as the whinings of an entitled young woman. After a few chapters, one gets tired of the repeated recitation of the lists of pills the young woman took, and descriptions of her disjointed states after she woke up from long sleeps. One can't help but wonder how the protagonist could remember all those details, when her mind was fogged up.
On the positive side, the writing is extremely good. Moshfegh seems to have a natural flair for the English language, and I hope to someday read other works from her that are a bit more consequential.
(2) This 1-minute audio clip is said to be the oldest recording of Iranian diva Googoosh, showcasing her talent at a very young age and demonstrating why she is still going strong at age 68.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Investigation report: The Florida International University bridge that collapsed in March had design errors.
- Seven women file a $70 million lawsuit against Dartmouth for shielding sexual predators.
- First cartoon of the day: "It's going to be a long couple of years." [Image]
- Second cartoon of the day: "Now, that's a representative parliament!" [Image]
- Oxford English Dictionary's Word of the Year for 2018: "Toxic" [Here is the shortlist]
- Flash-mob: Heart-warming performance at Isfahan's city center, Iran, despite not being very refined.
- Daf-playing Zoroastrians celebrate the Pomegranate Festival in Mobarakeh Village, Taft County, Yazd, Iran.
- Jorja Smith's moving performance of "Don't Watch Me Cry" on Stephen Colbert's late-night show.
(4) IBM's US supercomputers take the top 2 spots on the latest list of the world's top-500 supercomputers. Five of the top-10 entries are from the US, but China extends its presence on the list. In way of comparison, last November's list included two Chinese supercomputers at the top, followed by Swiss and Japanese machines, with the United States' first appearance being at the 5th spot.
(5) Final thought for the day: "Small, scared people hate, self-hating people hate, bullied and betrayed people hate, as though hate will make them large and safe and strong." ~ Nancy Gibbs, writing in Time magazine, issue of November 12, 2018, carrying the cover feature "Beyond Hate" [Cover image]

2018/11/16 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Jean-Leon Gerome's famous 1877 painting 'The Carpet Merchants' Jean-Leon Gerome's painting, 'The Whirling Dervishes' Jean-Leon Gerome's painting, 'The Blue Mosque' (1) Three magical paintings by Jean-Leon Gerome (cropped into square format): [Left] A Persian Carpet being admired in Cairo: "The Carpet Merchants" [Center] "The Whirling Dervishes" [Right] "The Blue Mosque"
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- November 16: Happy International Day for Tolerance! [Logo]
- California fires: More than 60 are dead and ~600 are still missing. Utilities scrutinized for fire cause.
- MBS ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, CIA has concluded.
- Facebook hired a firm to attack Soros and other critics: Zuckerberg and Sandberg claim they didn't know.
- Orange County becomes Blue County: Republicans lose a CA enclave won over for the party by Reaganites.
- Iran says it will step up to fill the void created by US assets based in Italy being sent to fight ISIS.
- Japan follows Trump's appointments strategy: Its cybersecurity minister has never used a computer!
- One year after the 7.5 quake in northwestern Iran, people are still living in precarious conditions. [Cartoon]
Impossible object, made of Lego blocks (3) On social paradoxes: Paradoxes and impossibility results in mathematics have counterparts in social sciences. The paradox of freedom, formulated by Karl Popper in 1945, goes like this: "Freedom, in the sense of absence of any constraining control, must lead to very great restraint, since it makes the bully free to enslave the meek." The paradox of tolerance is similar: "Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance." The restraint that goes with freedom is being put to the test as I write this note. Social media are banning certain users for abusive behavior, despite US Internet Legislation Section 230 categorizing such media as "platforms," which are immune from liability for the content they publish.
(4) This week's Santa Barbara Independent has a fascinating cover story about our city's history. Photos show: The 700 block of State Street, ca. 1883; SB Mission, 1880s: Navigational error causing 7 US Navy destroyers running aground, Sept. 8, 1923; Hotel Californian, after the earthquake of June 29, 1925.
(5) Anti-Semitism: Drunk man shouts "Heil Hitler, Heil Trump" during a performance of "Fiddler on the Roof" in Baltimore. He must be a leftist or undocumented immigrant, set to tarnish Trump and his administration!
(6) Concert at UCSB's Campbell Hall tonight: The musical program by the Estonian Chamber Choir, viewed by some as the finest in the world, and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra was a component of Estonia 100, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Estonia's independence from the Russian Empire. [Promotional video for the Choir]

2018/11/15 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Cover image of 'Catching Fire: Hunger Games, Book 2'
(1) Book review: Collins, Susanne, Catching Fire: Hunger Games, Book 2, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Carolyn McCormick, Scholastic Audio, 2009.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book is the second volume in the "Hunger Games" trilogy. Having seen the first two parts of the series as 2012 movies, I decided to also check out the second part in book form, which I liked much better. The third volume in the series was released as a 2-part movie in 2014 and 2015.
Victors of the 74th Hunger Games, Catniss Everdeen (played in the movie version by Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark, are sent on a Victors Tour to quell uprisings in the districts, attributed to Everdeen's actions (not killing Mellark, as required by the Games' single-victor rule), which were widely viewed as defiance against the Capitol and President Snow. Soon thereafter, word arrives that the victors' lifetime exemption from further participation in the gladiator-like fighting competition has been revoked and that the Games' 75th edition will in fact feature only previous victors, a kind of Celebrity Hunger Games, if you will.
Action-packed stories generally do not translate well to the screen. Some elements of the action scenes are enhanced by visuals, but these visuals are often overdone and come across as even less realistic than the books' versions. There is something to be said about a reader reconstructing and visualizing a scene and the action in it from the author's detailed description, and Collins does a great job of putting the reader in the middle of the action.
As a "young adult" title, the story of Catching Fire isn't subtle or sophisticated. There are a few surprises along the way, but events are, by and large, rather predictable. It was an enjoyable summer read for me, but I will likely not pursue the third book in the series, or its 2-part film version.
(2) Iranians from all walks of life sing "Morgh-e Sahar," an old favorite, while flashing messages of love to the self-exiled popular singer Mohammad-Reza Shajarian.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California wildfires have claimed 50 lives as of 11/14: Rampant looting has been reported in affected areas.
- Decision time for Democrats who want to enter the 2020 presidential race is fast approaching!
- Iranian folk music: Wonderful multi-lingual song, likely from southeastern Iran.
- What would you do if the glass surface of a pedestrian bridge cracked under your feet as you crossed?
(4) A Twitter account, set up by fans of Prince Babak Qajar, tweets (in Persian) about his right to form a government should monarchy return to Iran, because the "fake prince" (that is, Reza Pahlavi) comes from a dynasty which assumed power illegitimately. I am just reporting this discovery of mine, without suggesting that the claim is anything but an attempt at humor/entertainment. [Tweet images]
(5) Machine learning should move into the computer science undergraduate curricula: Traditionally, the focus of CS education has been precision and full control of algorithms (e.g., via a small number of well-understood parameters). AI has necessitated a change in this attitude. Machine learning brings with it a much larger number of poorly-understood parameters to our computational processes, thereby making logical proofs of correctness all but impossible. Instead of correctness proof, computer scientists must learn to deal with statistical demonstration of effectiveness.

2018/11/14 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran, photo 1 Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran, photo 2 Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran, photo 3 Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran, photo 4 Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran, photo 6 Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran, photo 5 (1) Colorful flowers, greenery, and a waterfall at the Botanic gardens in Karaj, near Tehran, Iran.
(2) Sharing my brief technical bio in Persian, prepared for a special commemorative album being compiled by the Alumni Association to honor the graduates of 50 years ago at College of Engineering, University of Tehran (pish-kesvataan-e daaneshkadeh-ye Fanni). [Includes 5-decades-old and recent photos]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- NYer cartoon: "Say what you will about 2018, I haven't been kept awake at night by the same fear twice."
- Tech and AI can help with early detection of fires and predtiction of the way they might spread.
- Quote: "Accuse the other side of that which you are guilty." ~ Jospeh Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister
- One of the most remarkable magic acts I have ever seen: I know how he did it, but it still amazes me.
- I miss Trump's daily updates on the status of the caravan of migrants!
- Today's World Music Series noon concert at UCSB featured UCSB's Gamelan Ensemble. [Photo] [Video]
(4) The snipping tool (Microsoft Windows tip): Sometimes, the easiest way to copy an image is from its displayed form on the screen. Windows has a "PrtSc" (print screen) command that captures the entire screen image, even if it extends over multiple monitors, which you can later copy into Paint or other apps. I have been doing this for ages, which required extra steps to crop the large image to get the part that I needed. A couple of days ago, I discovered the snipping tool (on Windows 10, you can type "snipping tool" into the Windows search box to locate the tool), which allows you to select particular screen areas to copy, saving much work.
(5) Misleading insurance commercials: Nearly all insurance commercials contain false or misleading claims, but three recent ones on TV ticked me off, because they take the deception to another level. One company claims that they will replace a totaled car, rather than pay the depreciated price (current value) of the car. But it does not mention that the insurance policy with replacement feature costs more. Another commercial tries to sell you on their "accident forgiveness" feature, again without any mention that policies with that forgiveness feature cost more. You are essentially paying the higher post-accident premium (pro-rated for risk) right now, so that your premium won't go up after an accident! A third, doomsday commercial says that a 500-year storm should occur once every 500 years, but we have had 26 of them over the past decade. This is like saying a birthday should occur once per year, but in our family alone, we have had two dozen birthdays already this year!

2018/11/13 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The human faces of California wildfires, photo 1 The human faces of California wildfires, photo 2 Iranian woman and girl wistfully watch from a nearby hill a soccer match played at a stadium from which they are banned (1) Newsworthy images: [Left and center] The human faces of California wildfires. [Right] Iranian woman and girl wistfully watch from a nearby hill a soccer match played at a stadium from which they are banned.
(2) Actress Kathleen Turner, 64, on sexism and ageism: "I got sent a screenplay once where the character was described as '37 but still attractive.' That pissed me off."
(3) An embarrassment of a President: Confusing the Balkans and the Baltics, Trump has blamed the leaders of Baltic states in northern Europe, on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, for starting the war in southeastern Europe's the Balkans, which encompasses Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia.
(4) Accelerated evolution: Under poaching pressure, elephants are evolving to lose their tusks, because not having tusks increases their survival probability. [Source: National Geographic]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will likely be the next Trump cabinet member to be fired.
- Kyrsten Sinema becomes the first Democrat to win an Arizona US Senate seat in 30 years.
- Death toll from California wildfires, now standing at 50, is expected to rise further, as scores are still missing.
- New York City and northern Virginia chosen to split Amazon's second headquarters.
- A very rare horizontal lightning bolt. [Photo]
- More photos of the devastation in California's northern and southern fires. [Newsweek's pictorial report]
(6) US higher education: Number of international students continues to fall under Trump, raising questions about the long-term impact of his presidency on the prosperity of high-tech and other industries.
(7) What US Presidents said when their party lost the House in midterm elections.
Bill Clinton (1994): Said they were held "accountable."
George W. Bush (2006): Called it a "thumping."
Barack Obama (2010): Called it a "shellacking."
Donald Trump (2018): Called it a "tremendous success."
(8) President of Pasadena Firefighters Association responds to Trump's blaming forest mismanagement for the devastating California wildfires. [Tweet image]
(9) [Final thought for the day] The power of nukes: Russia wouldn't be considered a world power without its nukes. Its economy is ranked 11th worldwide. California would be 5th if ranked among world countries. Without its nuclear threat, North Korea would be mentioned in world news at most once or twice per year!

2018/11/12 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Rain never stops a true leader from performing his/her duties. A very traditional Diwali celebration, with selfie and all! Trump is all smiles upon meeting Putin in Paris (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Rain never stops a true leader from performing his/her duties. [Center] A very traditional Diwali celebration, with selfie and all! [Right] A picture is worth a thousand words: Which world leader is most excited to see Putin in Paris?
(2) NASA plans to use robots to create rocket fuel on Mars: Shipping 1 kg of anything to Mars requires 225 kg of rocket fuel, so it makes sense to try to manufacture on Mars anything that can be created there. Water, oxygen, and fuel are among the stuff that scientists believe can be produced on Mars.
(3) China reveals that two of its TV anchors are AI-driven robots: Text of the news is fed into the human-like anchors and they read it out, with no need for breaks, food, or sleep.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Death toll in California wildfires continues to rise: It now stands at 31, with hundreds still missing.
- Bone-spurs Don and his pal Vladimir are missing in this march of solidarity along the Champs Elysees.
- The real Tom and Jerry! [1-minute video]
- Girl, who carried her abusive grandfather's baby, faces attempted abortion charges and 20 years in jail.
- Michelle Obama's highly-anticipated memoir, Becoming: Book excerpts
- A beautiful dance performance: Half classical and half belly dancing. [2-minute video]
(5) Regional special sections of CACM: Communications of the ACM has launched an inclusive feature to highlight what is happening in computing around the world. The first installment, in the November 2018 issue, covers China. Among observations in this 50-page special section (pp. 38-87) are China's aspirations to become the "Saudi Arabia of Data" and its ambitious long-term programs in emerging areas such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing. [Introduction and table of contents]
(6) Persian poetry: In this 9-minute video, a young man, who says he has two mullahs as grandparents, recites his humorous and stinging poem about Islamic clerics' ridiculous proclamations and actions.
(7) Ancient relic going to the electronics recycling bin: All three of my kids used this graphing calculator in high school. I got my first scientific calculator (a simple one, not a graphing one) for ~$50 from UCLA Bookstore in the early 1970s, shortly after it came out. It was the first electronic calculator to be pocket-size and affordable to students. We have come a long way in 45 years!

2018/11/11 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for 'The President Is Missing' (1) Book review: Clinton, Bill and James Patterson (with ghostwriter David Ellis), The President Is Missing: A Novel, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Dennis Quaid and others, Hachette Audio, 2018.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This cyber-crime novel piqued my interest, perhaps in part due to the extensive publicity preceding its release. While not a bad story, it is very much a Patterson novel, with its assembly-line production. Patterson releases a tad under one book per month, with his noteworthy books including Along Came a Spider, The Lake House, and the "Women's Murder Club" series. Clinton likely contributed insight into the workings of the president, his cabinet, and interactions with other entities, such as the Congress.
The plot entails a devastating computer virus that would plunge the US into "Dark Ages" by overwriting all active data files on Internet-connected platforms, which includes pretty much everything these days. A Harrison-Ford-like president is the kick-ass-fit and mentally-sharp protagonist (perhaps Clinton saw himself in the fictional president), who goes into hiding, as he struggles to stop the looming activation of the virus, while also trying to find out which of a handful of close aides is cooperating with the terrorists and/or hostile state responsible for the virus.
Descriptions of the virus, its likely effects, and potential countermeasures are rather laughable to a computer expert such as this reviewer. The virus is treated like a ticking bomb in action movies, which is invariably defused by the hero, as the timer is just a few ticks away from reaching zero.
All in all, not a bad read, but utterly forgettable!
(2) Special Veterans' Day event in Santa Barbara: Entitled "1918: An Immersive Multimedia Experience," the Saturday-Sunday 11/10-11, 2018, event at the El Presidio historic park is a video-projection installation (with imagery from the US National Archives) honoring Veterans' Day and the signing of the Armistice of November 11, 1918, which ended World War I. A very happy Veterans' Day to all!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Death toll in California wildfires rises to 23: High winds hamper efforts to control all three major fires.
- The boss shows his satisfaction: Putin flashes 'thumbs up' to Trump before shaking his hand in Paris. [Photo]
- With Putin also nearby, Macron tells Trump to his face that nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.
- When will Trump toughen libel laws, as promised, so reporters whom he calls stupid and racist can sue him?
(4) Two magical events tonight, 2018/11/11: The first one was a sobering visual presentation at Santa Barbara's historic El Presidio to honor Veterans' Day as well as the 100th anniversary of signing of the Armistice Treaty of November 11, 1918, to end World War I [Photos] [Video 1] [Video 2]. The second one was a concert, "Montage: A Celebration of Genres," featuring an eclectic program and directed by UCSB Music Department's incomparable, world-renowned flutist, Professor Jill Felber [Program] [Photos 1] [Photos 2].

2018/11/10 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) California fires, up close and from space: Camp Fire, already the most destructive in California history, kills 9 (dozens still missing) and destroys nearly 7000 structures in the town of Paradise. The center panel in the bottom row of images shows Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, as extensive evacuations were ordered. SoCal areas experience Internet and TV outages due to fire-damaged equipment. Thousand Oaks, a community devastated by mass shooting a few days ago, is now facing devastation by fire.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A house-size asteroid, 2018 VX1, flies past our Earth today at a distance closer than the moon.
- American press, unite! What happens if the White House calls a press conference and no one shows up?
- J. K. Rowling's response to a Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweet with blatant lies and a doctored video.
- Oh, the irony: A source named "America Uncensored" calls for more White House press passes to be revoked!
- "Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength." ~ American philosopher Eric Hoffer [1898-1983]
(3) Anti-Semitic hate crimes in the US: According to a survey conducted by GBA Strategies, 72% of American Jews think that, by emboldening anti-Semites, Trump's comments and policies are "very" or "somewhat" responsible for attacks against Jews.
(4) Sexual harassment in engineering hurts the field, in addition to individuals: The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have published a consensus study report titled "Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine." At more than 300 pages, the report makes many interesting observations and useful recommendations. Sexual harassment hurts the women victims, to state the obvious, but it also damages entire disciplines by threatening to reverse the slow, but steady gains made in recruiting women to STEM fields.

2018/11/09 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Oldest known color photo of Tehran's Pahlavi Ave. (later renamed Vali-e-Asr) Art from scrap: Skull sculpture made of cans Catalina Island's 80-year-old airport runway, which is in poor shape, will be revamped by the US Marine Corps (1) Interesting images: [Left] Oldest known color photo of Tehran's Pahlavi Ave. (later renamed Vali-e-Asr). [Center] Art from scrap: Skull sculpture made of cans. [Right] Catalina Island's 80-year-old airport runway, which is in poor shape, will be revamped by the US Marine Corps.
(2) [I will take some flak for this, but here it is anyway!] Intellectual laziness: In this 6-minute fragment of a Persian-language lecture, the speaker (unknown to me) reminds Iranians that the country's problems require critical minds and 21st-century solutions. Invoking ancient personalities as keys to progress is regressive, regardless of whether it is Cyrus/Dariush, Zoroaster, or Rumi/Hafiz/Ferdowsi.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Massive wildfires rage in California: The 0%-contained Woolsey fire burns homes in Ventura County.
- Heavy smoke in Ventura, California, from nearby fires in Thousand Oaks and elsewhere. [Photo]
- The Borowitz Report (humor): "Trump unable to stop caravan of Democratic women invading Washington."
- Nintendo to suspend all video streaming services on Wii, including the Netflix Channel, in February 2019.
- DARPA plans on testing autonomous flight in Black-Hawk helicopters.
- Quote of the day: "I don't want prayers ... I want gun control." ~ Mother of Thousand Oaks shooting victim
(4) No planes for Iran: The state-owned COMAC (Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China) will not sell passenger planes to Iran. Fearing US retaliation, Moscow has also ruled out helping Iran with its fleet renewal plans.
(5) "Towards Hardware Cybersecurity": This was the title of a 2018/11/09 talk by Dr. Houman Homayoun (ECE, George Mason U.) at UCSB. Authenticity and integrity of data have traditionally been protected with security protocols at the software level, with the underlying hardware assumed to be secure and reliable. A steady rise in hardware complexity and increased attacks on hardware integrity have invalidated the latter assumption. Counterfeiting electronic components, inserting hardware trojans, and cloning integrated circuits are just a few of many malicious byproducts. Homayoun presented the concept of hybrid spin-transfer torque CMOS lookup-table-based design as a cost-effective countermeasure against physical reverse-engineering attacks. He then showed how the use of data at the hardware-architecture level, in combination with an effective ML-based predictor, helps protect systems against various classes of hardware vulnerability attacks. [Photos/slides]
[Side note: Young researchers sometimes err in their oral presentations by constructing their slides to impress, rather than to communicate. Putting too much information on one slide, and including too many slides in a presentation, that gives you virtually no chance to cover all of them, is counterproductive. A jam-packed slide, of which only 10-20% is actually covered, or that is flashed for only 3 seconds before moving on, is quite disorienting to the audience.]

2018/11/08 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cactus flowers, Batch 1: Purple Cactus flowers, Batch 2: Pink Cactus flowers, Batch 3: Orange (1) Beautiful cactus flowers: It's hard to imagine that the thorny, often ugly, plants produce such beauties!
(2) Horrific mass shooting by former US Marine at California bar claims 12 lives: This is way too close for comfort. I hope all my relatives and friends in the Thousand Oaks area are okay. Please don't wait for someone in your close circle to be affected before demanding sensible gun laws!
(3) Higher education will miss Claire McCaskill: The Senator, who lost her re-election bid on 11/6, made a big difference by putting campus sexual misconduct on the radar of Congress and the nation.
(4) Seven new scientists were elected to the US Congress on 11/6: The group includes an ocean expert, a nurse, a biochemist, and Nevada's Jacky Rosen, a computer programmer, who prevailed in the Senate race.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Today is the 2nd anniversary of the most horrific event for many of us. Hoping that things change by the 3rd!
- Man was arrested and charged with multiple terrorism-related offenses for threatening to kill CNN reporter.
- Perseverance always pays off: Failure isn't falling down; It's not getting back up. [3-minute video]
- A lively tune to brighten your day: "No Face, No Name, No Number" [4-minute video]
- Wonderful folk music and dance from Iran's Caspian-Sea region. [3-minute video]
- An Azeri song, beautifully performed with big-orchestra accompaniment. [3-minute video]
(6) "Self-Supervised Learning: Could Machines Learn Like Humans?": This was the title of a Thursday 11/08/2018 talk by Yann LeCun, Facebook's VP & Chief AI Scientist and Founding Director of the NYU Center for Data Science. UCSB's Corwin Pavilion, the venue for the 3:30 PM talk, was completely filled, with many attendees standing in the back or along the side walls of the room; highly unusual for a technical talk!
Thus far, machine learning has been by and large of the supervised variety, with human guidance and expertise used to train the AI algorithms. Even for fairly simple tasks, supervised learning requires a large number of labeled samples, making it practical only for certain tasks. Reinforcement learning requires many interactions with the environment.
Deep learning, which has brought about significant progress in computer perception, natural language understanding, and control, has also been of the supervised variety thus far, while animals and humans seem to learn much task-independent knowledge about how the world works through mere observation and occasional interactions. Learning new tasks or skills require very few samples or interactions: We learn to drive cars and fly planes in about 30 hours of practice.
What learning paradigm do humans and animal use to learn so efficiently? LeCun put forth the hypothesis that self-supervised learning of predictive world models is an essential missing ingredient of current approaches to AI. One could argue that prediction is the essence of intelligence. [Photos]

2018/11/07 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Diwali, the Hindu spiritual festival, aka the Festival of Lights (1) Happy Diwali, the Hindu spiritual festival, aka the Festival of Lights, that is used to offer prayers to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, and to ritually observe the idea of knowledge over ignorance and good over evil.
(2) The slow-moving disaster near San Andreas Fault, where the big quake is expected: A muddy spring near California's Salton Sea, which had moved 60 feet over a few months, suddenly moved 60 feet in a single day.
(3) US midterm election results: The House will be controlled by Democrats (in what is characterized as a rainbow, rather then the projected blue, wave) and Republicans maintain control of the Senate. While this is only a small step toward neutralizing Trump, it constitutes a major improvement over the status quo. I choose to focus on the positive: The fact that Trump will face real oversight from one branch of the legislature. My advice to other Democrats is to cherish the advances and not to fret over the fact that Trumpians gained Senate seats, which makes one wonder how much damage a President has to do to lose control of the Congress!
(4) The women's wave: Women, of many persuasions and ethnic backgrounds, were elected yesterday at the national and state levels (legislatures, governorships, judgeships, etc.). The new House is projected to include 95 women (up from 84), and 13 new women will join the 10 women Senators who weren't up for re-election.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories in Iran: An Iranwire report from June 2018.
- ADL honors journalist, filmmaker, and human rights activist Maziar Bahari with Daniel Pearl Award.
- Cyrus the Great (King Cyrus) Street in Jerusalem, Israel. [Photo of street sign]
- Pretending to investigate Khashoggi's death, agents actually removed evidence from the Saudi consulate.
- Why Bill Gates is advocating and funding research on reinventing the toilet.
- The just-opened Rockfire Grill in Isla Vista, on the path I walk between my home and UCSB office. [Photo]
- Quote of the day: "Data is the new oil." ~ British mathematician Clive Humby
- The Salt Martians performed bluegrass music today at noon, as part of UCSB's World Music Series.
(6) Post-election news: Trump threw a temper tantrum at a news conference after the midterm elections, lashing out at Republicans who lost, the Democrats, and the news media. Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a target of Trump's mean-spirited attacks for months, resigned at Trump's request.
(7) The pasta puzzle: Take an uncooked pasta noodle and bend it, until it breaks. Most likely, it won't break into just two pieces. If you strongly twist the noodle while bending it, it will likely snap into two pieces. Why?

2018/11/06 (tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The kids who voiced Peanuts characters in the 1960s India unveils the world's tallest statue: Known as the Statue of Unity, the 182-meter behemoth depicts the Indian national hero Vallabhbhai Patel A wonderful work of art that invites children to interact with it (1) The worlds of art and entertainment: [left] The kids who voiced Peanuts characters in the 1960s. [Center] India unveils the world's tallest statue: Known as the Statue of Unity, the 182-meter behemoth depicts the Indian national hero Vallabhbhai Patel. [Right] A wonderful work of art that invites children to interact with it.
(2) False sexual assault allegations are extremely rare: According to the National Registry of Exonerations, in the nearly 3 decades since 1989, only 52 men charged with sexual assault were exonerated due to being falsely accused; that's fewer than 2 per year. [Fact cited by Ariana Marmolejo in her opinion piece published in Daily Nexus, UCSB's student newspaper]
(3) A dynamic graph showing the world's top-10 countries in terms of GDP, 1960-2017. The US is always at the top, but other countries' relative GDPs grow/shrink and their ranks occasionally rearranged. [Video]
(4) The Iranian Parliament's law about Iran joining the international Terrorist Financing (Suppression) Convention has been rejected by the Guardian Council, for a long list of "problems" as well as violations of the country's constitution. [Documents in Persian]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, and memes (US midterm elections edition).
- Rumors and hoaxes about voting and polling places are quite common on Election Day: Be vigilant!
- Vote as if your life depends upon it ... It just might!
- Cartoon of the day (about voting): "You are here. You should be here, your voting place." [Image]
- On the eve of the US Election Day, TV networks (including Fox) pull Trump's racist ad.
- Trump fans chant "4 More Years": Does this mean they want him impeached in the middle of his 2nd term?
- Barbra Streisand addresses Trump in a new song: "Don't Lie to Me"
(6) Motivational speech: Baluchi young woman talks about her life challenges, including recovering from life-altering injuries sustained in a car crash, getting out of an unhappy arranged marriage, and overcoming her fears. [6-minute video, with Persian subtitles]
(7) Intellectual laziness: In this 6-minute lecture fragment, the Persian speaker reminds Iranians that the country's problems require critical minds and 21st-century solutions. Invoking ancient personalities as keys to progress is regressive, regardless of whether it is Cyrus/Dariush, Zoroaster, or Rumi/Hafiz/Ferdowsi.

2018/11/04 (Sunday): A report from IEEE IEMCON conference, which I attended in Vancouver, Canada.
UBC's Student Nest Building's main lobby The pond at the center of UBC's main campus mall The entrance to conference facilities at UBC's Student Nest Building (1) Held November 1-3, 2018, on the Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia, the 9th IEEE Information Technology, Electronics and Mobile Communication Conference featured many keynote lectures and parallel technical sessions in multiple tracks. The conference venue was UBC's Student Nest Building, seen in two of the photos above: The main lobby is on the left and the entrance to conference facilities on the right.
(2) I missed the first day of the conference due to arriving in Vancouver in the evening of 11/1. On the morning of the second day, after a buffet breakfast, the conference's technical program featured three research keynotes, with three more scheduled for the third day. The first day's keynotes were given by industry leaders. A list of research keynotes which I did attend on the final two days follows.
- Georgios Giannakis (U. Minnesota): "Online Learning and Management for Edge Computing In IOT"
- Sidney Fels (UBC): "Design for Human Experience and Expression at the HCT Laboratory"
- Nicolas A. F. Jaeger (UBC): "Silicon Photonics: Smaller, Cheaper, Faster"
- Vincent Wong (UBC): "Non-Orthogonal Multiple Access in 5G Wireless Networks"
- Shen-En Qian (Canadian Space Agency): "Satellite Observation for Coastal Ocean and Inland Waters"
- Behraad Bahreyni (Simon Fraser U.): "Vector Microsensors for Acoustic and Optical Signals"
(3) I took advantage of a time slot on 11/2, with no interesting conference sessions for me, to walk on the immense 56,000-student Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia, including its mile-long Main Mall, photographing architectural landmarks and student life. Sandwiched between a rainy Thursday and expected rain on Saturday, the weather was nice, but a bit on the chilly side. [Photos]
(4) In a nice touch, the conference organizers, presented speakers with certificates of presentation.
(5) Data analytics workshop: I spent much of the 11/3 afternoon attending an interesting workshop, where fundamentals of data analytics and use of the two clustering/categorization tools, RapidMiner and WEKA, were discussed by Dr. Satyajit Chakrabarti. [Photos]
(6) Awards ceremony at the end of the conference: The Technical Program Committee was kind enough to honor two of my contributions with Best-Paper Awards in their respective conference tracks.
(7) Heading back home: After 35 minutes in the air from Vancouver to Seattle on a propeller plane and a 45-minute wait for the gate to free up, I barely had enough time to change terminals and make it to my Santa-Barbara-bound flight. Once at home, I was extremely grateful to have returned to California sunshine from a gloomy early-November Vancouver. I need the coming week to resume my teaching, make up for cancelled lectures, catch up with e-mail and other personal/professional commitments, and generally recover from a week-long absence for two conferences. Looking forward to the Veterans' Day observance holiday on Monday 11/12 and Thanksgiving weekend's family gatherings the following week!

2018/11/03 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: 'Just tell me which part Obama wrote' Cartoon: The President in no way, form, or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence Moses is ordered to turn his caravan around, because it contains too many Middle Easterners! (1) Trump cartoons: [Left] "Just tell me which part Obama wrote." (from The New Yorker) [Center] "The President in no way, form, or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence." ~ Sarah Huckabee Sanders [Right] Moses is ordered to turn his caravan around, because it contains too many Middle Easterners!
(2) Grand Ayatollah Musa Shobairi Zanjani ordered to behave: Iran's Islamic regime doesn't just oppress Jews, Christians, Baha'is, and Sunni Muslims. It also squashes Shiite clergy criticizing the Supreme Leader.
(3) Trump's only worries about the hateful massacre of Jews and assassination attempts at leading Democrats? That the events stopped GOP's 'tremendous momentum'!
(4) Comedian Hasan Minhaj tells you all you need to know about Saudi Arabia: Great job, but I hope he never has a need to visit a Saudi consulate! [19-minute video]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Voting is just like driving: Choose "R" to go backward, "D" to go forward! [Meme]
- Yet another loco: Peace in the Middle East is impossible unless Jews and Muslims convert to Christianity.
- Pentagon rejects request to send troops to the border for what it considers a law-enforcement function.
- Traitor and super-spy Robert Hanssen was exposed by a KGB defector, a new book claims.
- Hit-and-run driver kills three Girl Scouts and an adult picking up highway trash in Wisconsin.
- Coalition of 46 scientists urges researchers to cite possible risks when sharing new AI technology.
- UCSB's ECE Department has 4 open academic positions, including 2 in computer engineering.
- "Your products are encroaching on my products." [Cartoon, from The New Yorker]
- These undated photos of melting polar ice are sobering nonetheless.
- An Iranian folk poem/song about wistfully remembering the simple pleasures of yore.
- Political commentary: The latest incarnation of Trump's southern border wall! [Credit: Stephen Colbert]
- Police report in Iran blames the Internet for women's increasing resistance to mandatory hijab laws.
(6) Catching up with a long-time friend: I was lucky enough to be able to connect with college classmate Farrokh Elmieh, dining together at Gilaneh Persian Restaurant during my last night in Vancouver, Canada.
(7) Final thought for the day: Know your voting rights: California law allows you to take up to 2 hours off from work on Election Day without a loss of pay.

2018/11/02 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine's cover for its November 5, 2018, double-issue features a large tri-fold photo of 245 participants (hunters, activists, teachers, police officers, parents, and children), who have told their gun stories in their own words (1) Time magazine's November 5, 2018, cover features a large tri-fold photo of 245 participants (hunters, activists, teachers, police officers, parents, and children), who have told their gun stories in their own words.
(2) On giving women more opportunities: Have you noticed that as male politicians, executives, entertainers, and TV anchors/hosts fall from grace for sexual misconduct, their female counterparts step up and fill the void admirably? Why weren't they given the opportunities in the first place?
(3) Saudi sisters whose bodies were found duct-taped together in NYC's Hudson River had stated they'd rather kill themselves than return to Saudi Arabia.
(4) Inadvertently dropped from the end of this Trump quote: "... as long they are male, white, straight, rich, Christian, and voted for me." [Grammar-challenged, as always!]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Bus plunges off bridge in China, killing 13+, after a woman who missed her stop fights with the driver.
- Donald Trump wants to play the macho tough guy and the fragile victim at the same time!
- Security concerns cited as US limits tech exports to Chinese chip-maker.
- Afghan villagers die or are maimed in large numbers by bomb explosions. [Photo, Time magazine, Nov. 5]
- Taking a page from Trump's playbook, Iran accuses BBC of hate speech, propaganda, and fake news.
- "You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
- The world record of stone-skipping, 88 skips, is nearly impossible to exceed. [12-minute video]
- Two rather unusual word puzzles that I worked on during my 11/01 flight from Santa Barbara to Seattle.
- Oldest intact shipwreck found off the coast of Bulgaria: The 75-ft Greek merchant ship is 2400 years old.
(6) The US Military has been groaning on the sidelines thus far, but when Trump starts pushing them around for political gain, tempers will flare. The Pentagon deems sending troops to the southern border a waste of tax-payers' money for political goals and also worries about the troops being caught between the asylum-seekers and American vigilantes.
(7) Bad sensor blamed for Soyuz rocket failure: The malfunctioning sensor, which signals the jettisoning of one of the four side boosters, caused the booster to collide with the rocket's second stage.

2018/11/01 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Anti-Semisism: Burning Stae of David (1) Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society: HIAS was founded to help Jews fleeing persecution resettle in Israel or the West. I know quite a few Jews who benefited from the services of HIAS, for which they are grateful. Later, HIAS broadened its mission to providing assistance to all refugees, not just Jews. Supporting HIAS was one of the "sins" of the members of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, for which they were gunned down by a human-like creature, whose failed masculinity (he wanted to become a pro wrestler, but had to settle for exotic dancer) led to his murderous rage.
(2) A large group of Iranian musicians and other celebrities sing the "Ey Iran" anthem, a de facto national anthem, given that the Islamic Republic's version is viewed by most as lacking legitimacy.
(3) Solidarity: Islamic Center of Pittsburgh has raised $70,000+ for synagogue attack victims and has offered security guards for their next service.
(4) Sharing a funny tweet from Aida Ahadiany: Uber has messaged me that if I use their offered discount three times until Sunday, the discount will be extended for another two weeks. They just don't get it that my problem isn't discounts; it's not having any place to go. [Persian tweet]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- [Humor] Welcome sign at a Saudi consulate: Come in peace, leave in pieces.
- Nature photography by Goli Tavakoli. [Photos]
- Persian music: Darya Dadvar performs "Strangers in the Night," for which she composed Persian lyrics.
- Azeri music: A wonderful song, with piano and vocals, by two unidentified women.
- Landslide in Italy: Perhaps the most devastating mud flow ever captured on video.
- Experience Beethoven's Fifth not just aurally but also visually through a very clever Line-Rider animation.
(6) Talk about spoilers! Russian scientist stabs a colleague for telling him the endings of books he wanted to read. I have to exercise more care in my book reviews!
(7) Dinesh D'Souza, the man who retweeted posts with the hashtags #burntheJews and #bringbackslavery, and who was recently pardoned by Trump, has been invited to speak at Stanford U. in January 2019.
(8) A new sink gadget: I first saw this gadget a few days ago at Starbucks in King City, California. Water comes out from its middle, soap dispenser is on the left, and a powerful blow-dryer on the right, all three operated by motion sensors. An excellent engineering solution to a daily need in public places.
(9) Jimmy Wales, the visionary man who started Wikipedia, the Internet's largest information source, is driven by his love for education, rather than fame or money. His name may not be as familiar as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk today, but history will judge him as more influential.

2018/10/31 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Halloween-themed Trump cartoon 1 United against anti-Semitism logo Halloween-themed Trump cartoon 2 (1) Halloween 2018 and anti-Semistism: [Left and right] Halloween-themed Trump cartoons. [Center] United against anti-Semitism: "But his son-in-law is Jewish" no longer cuts it as a defense for a president who has unleashed forces of evil against Jews, not to mention Muslims, refugees, and many other persecuted groups.
(2) Rise in anti-Semitism in the US: According to ADL's CEO, after a decade of decline, anti-Semitic hate crimes increased 34% in 2016 and 57% in 2017. The numbers for 2018 so far are comparable to 2017. The data leaves no doubt that Trump is to blame. Meanwhile, Trump took the opportunity to bow to his NRA masters: The synagogue should have had an armed guard! There is no evidence that an armed guard would do anything other than increase the number of casualties by one.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Murder mystery: Saudi sisters' bodies found duct-taped together in NYC's Hudson River.
- A progressive Jewish group told Trump not to visit Pittsburgh until he fully denounces white nationalism.
- Today's Trump tweet about his Pittsburgh trip: Do you see any direct mention of the shooting victims?
- LA spooked out: Boston beat LA Dodgers 5-1 in game 5 to win the MLB championship series 4-1.
- In the crash of a Boeing 737 Indonesian airliner into the sea shortly after takeoff, 189 people died.
- Persian Music: There are many YouTube videos from Fatemeh Mehlaban, but they provide no info on her.
(4) Immigrant bashing continues: In what is considered to be his most drastic anti-immigrant step, Trump says he can, and intends to, end birthright citizenship with an executive order.
(5) Troops deployment to our southern border will cost an estimated $50 million: Campaign spending on behalf of the Republicans from our tax money, essentially!
(6) Attending 52nd Asilomar Conference on Signals, Systems, and Computers: Since the afternoon of Sunday 10/28, I have been at the beautiful Asilomar Conference Grounds (a National Park) in Pacific Grove, California. On Monday morning, I was scheduled to present a poster and a paper at a lecture session at the same time. I solved the dilemma by putting up my poster early, attaching a note to it that explained the problem to visitors, and running to the other session to give my talk, barely making it there in time. I joked that the conference organizing committee must have included a physicist who wanted to experiment with quantum teleportation! I walked along the beautiful Asilomar State Beach [Video 1] [Video 2] during Monday's lunch break. After conference sessions ended for me on Monday, I headed from Pacific Grove toward Monterey, stopping at and exploring the Lovers Point Park [Photos] [Video 1] [Video 2]. You can say I was feeling some love for myself! On Tuesday afternoon, I took advantage of a lull in conference sessions to take a stroll on Monterey's Cannery Row [Photos] [Selfies with statues in front of "After the Quake" novelty stoer] [Photos taken along Monterey's Cannery Row and on its Steinbeck Plaza]. On Steinbeck Plaza, a couple of super-talented teenagers performed Beatles songs [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3]. On the way back from Monterey to my hotel, I encountered quite a few deer on a residential street in Pacific Grove [Photos].

2018/10/29 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) The green lagoon: UCSB's campus lagoon looks green most of the time. The reason, as explained in the center photo above, is excessive growth of algae and submerged aquatic plants in the lagoon's warm, nutrient-rich water. I took all but the top-center aerial photo (which is from the Internet) in late October, 2018, as I walked to the Loma Pelona Conference Center for attending a talk.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Some ideas for keeping foodstuff fresh: I learned a couple of new tricks from this 3-minute video!
- Cartoon of the day: "Cell" phone! [Image]
- Video joke of the day: Man's dream of superiority comes to an abrupt end! [1-minute video]
- Art created on apples and leaves: Simply awe-inspiring! [2-minute video]
- Dance with a dazzling lighted costume. [May be partially muted in some regions due to copyright issues.]
(3) Judeo-Arabic, the little-known language spoken by Jews across the Medieval Arab world: "Less known than Yiddish or Ladino, Judeo-Arabic was spoken by Jews from Iran to Spain, from Yemen to Syria. The 99-year-old doyen of Maimonides' tongue, says that during Golden Age of Islam, Jewish culture in Arab lands was 10 times greater than that of Ashkenazi Jewry."
(4) I will be attending two back-to-back conferences: The first, Asilomar Conference on Signals, Systems, and Computers, will be in Pacific Grove, CA, October 28-31, 2018. The second, IEEE Information Technology, Electronics & Mobile Communication Conference, will be in Vancouver, Canada, November 1-3, 2018. In case anyone is interested, I will be presenting a total of 5 papers at the two conferences, as shown in this list. You can find the full papers and presentations (in PDF and PPT formats) near the top of my publications list.

2018/10/27 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Extraordinary architecture and tilework from Iran: Example 1 Movie poster for 'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' Extraordinary architecture and tilework from Iran: Example 2 (1) Iran-related images: [Left and right] Examples of extraordinary architecture and tilework from Iran. [Center] Iranian movie screening at UCSB: The 2014 vampire movie "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" (I was totally unaware of any Persian-language vampire film) will be shown at UCSB's Multicultural Center Theater, beginning at 6:00 PM on Wednesday, October 31, 2018. I will be attending two conferences the entire next week, but plan to be back in Santa Barbara on 10/31 evening only, so I may be able to go see the film.
(2) Best of Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Independent publishes an annual issue (cover image) in which the best businesses in our area are highlighted based on reader opinions. The problem is that the categories are so narrow that most businesses end up being the best in some category. This reminds me of something a friend told me many years ago. According to him, Americans are so bent on being the best that they draw boundaries within which they reign supreme. Examples include the tallest building west of the Mississippi and the largest eye-surgery center between Los Angeles and San Jose.
(3) Iran's border control may refrain from stamping passports of travelers who are concerned that they may not be able to enter the US after visiting Iran: Israel has been doing this for decades to accommodate people from Islamic countries or those who plan to travel to Islamic countries and want no record of a visit to Israel.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Eleven dead in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, where a gunman walked in shouting "all Jews must die."
- The Psychology of Hate: An interesting and timely read, in view of the recent hate-crime incidents.
- In a surprise development, China cuts Iran oil purchases ahead of US sanctions.
- Persian music, accompanied by a slide show depicting life in the Iran of yore and today. [5-minute video]
(5) College soccer: The blue/green rivalry between UCSB and Cal Poly SLO has produced many memorable games and some of the largest spectator crowds on both campuses. Tonight, the two teams faced each other at UCSB's nearly-filled Harder Stadium, with UCSB prevailing 2-0. UCSB could have scored a third goal in the final minute, but a great save by the Cal Poly goalie deflected the well-placed header.
Side note 1: I bought my ticket to the game on-line and headed to the stadium on foot, getting there at 6:50 for a game I thought would start at 7:00. Unbeknownst to me, the game had been moved to 5:00 PM with no notice. So, I watched only the final 15 minutes or so, which was still pretty exciting.
Side note 2: Returning home on foot via Isla Vista, I noticed heavy presence by the Isla Vista Foot Patrol officers on foot and on bicycles, as well as Santa Barbara County's patrol cars. The weekend before a Halloween falling on a weekday is sometimes wild and results in quite a few arrests of drunken out-of-towners.

2018/10/26 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Frankenstein's 200th anniversary: Mary Shelly's novel, written 200 years ago, created a new genre and has enjoyed a remarkable afterlife If the Pinocchio effect were real, Trump would look like this after 21 months in office! Photo of the van belonging to the suspect in the mailed pipe-bombs terror attack (1) Newsworthy images: [Left] Frankenstein's 200th anniversary: Mary Shelly's novel, written 200 years ago, created a new genre and has enjoyed a remarkable afterlife. UCSB Library is showcasing a number of books on Frankenstein for the occasion. [Center] If the Pinocchio effect were real, Trump would look like this after 21 months in office! [Right] Photo of the van belonging to the suspect in the mailed pipe-bombs terror attack.
(2) Prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun is credited with kick-starting the #MeToo movement in South Korea. [From Time magazine, issue of October 29, 2018]
(3) Khashoggi's murder puts the spotlight on Saudi money flowing to Harvard and MIT: Prostituting our most-revered institutions and sacrificing our founding principles for money. Way to go, America! [Facebook post]
(4) New study: The happiest married people are those who have ever had sex only with their spouse. [P.S.: As is common in the social sciences, there is probably a study somewhere that concludes just the opposite!]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Man arrested for mailing pipe-bomb packages to Donald Trump's critics: He is Cesar Sayoc, 56, of Davie, FL.
- Trump's main worry regarding pipe-bomb mailings? That the 'bomb stuff' can hurt Republicans in midterms.
- Iranian-American Abaseh Mirvali to head Santa Barbara's planned Museum of Contemporary Art.
- Wearable assistive robotics in the form of chair-less exoskeletons help workers at Hyundai's US plant.
- TU Wien and MIT develop machine-learning algorithm that can parallel-park a car using only 12 neurons.
- When the soccer ball just doesn't feel like going into the net, hitting all three goal posts within 2 seconds!
(6) Outrage over Megyn Kelly's comments: Kelly had said on TV that a person wearing a black face to impersonate Diana Ross, say, as part of a Halloween disguise/costume should not be criticized. I had a chat a couple of days ago with a friend who thought political correctness has been taken too far in this country and that Kelly did not intend to be mean or disrespectful; furthermore, she has apologized. I told my friend that if this is an isolated incident, it will soon be forgotten, but if Kelly had made other comments that were viewed as racist, then she should be held accountable for her overall record. Political correctness is a reaction to decades or even centuries of abuse and oppression, which has made certain groups overly sensitive to further abuse and disrespect. I cited the example of women who have been abused and held back for millennia, and are thus understandably wary of acts such as pinching and cat-calling, which, in the absence of the said context, might be viewed as lighthearted, rather than mean-spirited. If women were considered completely equal, there were no pay gap or glass ceiling for them, and their "no" answer was always interpreted as "no," they might have been much less sensitive to these issues. [Image]
[Update: NBC is apparently negotiating with Kelly to terminate her contract.]

2018/10/25 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fall colors in Zonouz Village, northeast of Tabriz, Eastern Azerbaijan Province, Iran Believe it or not: A rectangular iceberg has recently broken off from the Larsen C ice shelf Automn in New York City's Central Park (1) Earth's wonderful nature: [Left] Fall colors in Zonouz Village, northeast of Tabriz, Eastern Azerbaijan Province, Iran. [Center] Believe it or not: A rectangular iceberg has recently broken off from the Larsen C ice shelf. [Right] Autumn in New York City's Central Park.
(2) Let the denials and deflections begin: Fox News host claims that the bomb scare was faked to make Trump look bad! Of course, no one's making Trump look bad more than Trump himself.
(3) The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) continued its strike across all 10 UC campuses today, citing the administration's not negotiating in good faith. [Video] [Photo]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Two people fall to their death from a popular overlook spot at California's Yosemite National Park.
- FBI arrests former Republican candidate for attempting to buy a lethal dose of a radioactive substance.
- The recent drop in the stock market has left the DJIA and S&P 500 in the negative territory for 2018. [Chart]
- Delightful little dancers: Some really awesome moves to brighten your day! [Video]
- Video joke of the day: The safest way to cross a super-busy street. [Video]
- Fantastic light show: Visual art projection on an an ancient stone tower. [Video]
(5) If bombs are sent to prominent Democrats, the media and socialists are to blame. If Republicans are harassed or shot at, it's the leftists' and media's fault.
(6) Tidbits from Chancellor Yang's report at today's meeting of UCSB Faculty Legislature:
- Last year, ~6700 students graduated from UCSB, bringing the total number of alumni to 210,000.
- This year, we recruited 5200 freshmen and 2500 transfer students, close to the 2/1 recently-mandated ratio.
- Non-residents account for 16% of our undergraduate student body; we are getting closer to the 18% cap.
- A classroom building with 2300 seats, centrally located on campus, is expected to be approved next month.
- Two consecutive issues of the journal Nature recently featured work by UCSB researchers on the cover.
- Where student live: 40% on campus; 40% Isla Vista; 20% nearly equally divided among SB/Goleta/other.
- US News and World Report ranked UCSB fifth among public universities; UCLA, Berkeley, Virginia, and Michigan occupy the top 4 spots. UC Irvine, UC Davis, and UCSD are also in the top 12.
(7) Screening of news films from archives (UCLA and U. South Carolina): Before the age of television, visual news footage was screened in movie theaters prior to the main feature. I remember watching many Movietone news clips in theaters in Iran. Tonight, at Pollock Theater, the audience was treated to a curated set of news clips from those days and a few from early TV days. The screening was part of the symposium "Rediscovering U.S. Newsfilm," being held at UCSB, October 25-27. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4] [Video 5]

2018/10/24 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Alarming stats on the number of prisoners per 100,000 population: The US compared to some other countries America's team places first in the 2018 International Math Olympiad Cartoon of the day: 'Welcome to the Saudi consulate. How can we help you?' (1) Some newsworthy images: [Left] Alarming stats on the number of prisoners per 100,000 population: The US compared to some other countries. [Center] America's team places first in the 2018 International Math Olympiad: "Wait, where's the American team?" muttered Trump. [Right] Cartoon of the day: "Welcome to the Saudi consulate. How can we help you?"
(2) Bomb packages sent to CNN, the Obamas, the Clintons, and other former US officials have been intercepted and are being investigated. What do these targets have in common? They have all been vilified by Trump in one way or another ("lock her up"). So, even though Trump now talks about unity, he is directly responsible for these acts of terror.
(3) UCSB strikers disrupt education: Over my 30 years at UCSB, I had never seen classes that were in session disrupted by strikers, who usually just want their grievances heard through signs, marching, and chanting in areas away from classrooms. Today, my 10:00-11:30 AM class was disrupted twice by loud chants and beating of drums, as the strikers marched by, each time for about 5 minutes. I guess this is part of the new incivility brought about by the dysfunction in our national politics. [Photo taken from my classroom's window.]
(4) World Music Series noon concert: Santa Barbara High School students, with help from a few UCSB alumni, performed selections from the musical "In the Heights" at UCSB's Music Bowl. Pre-recorded music was used for the most part, because they could not bring their 9-piece band to campus. I am looking forward to the show's opening next week. [Video 1] [Video 2, a song entitled "96,000," which, interestingly enough, is about winning the lottery (not quite 1.5 billion though)!] [Video 3, a wonderful love song]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Theory of evolution approved by Arizona's Board of Education as part of new science standards.
- According to Harvard Business Review, more top-performing CEOs have engineering degrees than MBAs.
- Kurdish woman sings: "They say Persian is sweet as sugar, but to me, Kurdish is even sweeter"! [Video]
- Robot "testifies" in the British Parliament about future use of AI in classrooms.
- Comedian Jimmy Kimmel: Sarah Huckabee Sanders' tell-all book will be titled B.S., I Love You.
- This manual/mechanical water pump for extracting water from a well was quite common in my youth.
(6) Scientist of the Year: Computational biologist Bette Korber, known for her work on HIV, will be given the Scientist of the Year Award at the 2018 R&D 100 ceremony in November. The same event will also recognize the 2018 R&D 100 Award winners.
(7) Political humor: Trump condemned the sending of bomb packages to several prominent Democrats. Now, I am waiting for his next news conference where he will say "there are fine people on both sides"!

2018/10/23 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Only two weeks left to US Election Day: Please vote! Voting: Check!
Best election advice: Elect functioning adults (1) US midterm elections: [Left] Only two weeks left to US Election Day: Please vote! [Center] Voting: Check! [Right] Best election advice: Elect functioning adults. (Please let me where to find them!)
(2) Bird electric scooters have arrived in Isla Vista: I noticed them parked near major intersections and on busier streets a few days ago. For now, they are banned on UCSB's walkways and bike paths, which limits their usefulness as a transportation option for students. But discussions are ongoing with campus officials about the fate of these scooters, which are unlocked and managed from a smartphone app.
(3) Internet pioneer Dr. Leonard Kleinrock tells PC Magazine about the ARPANET precursor to today's Internet, how he got the geek bug and a full scholarship to MIT (where he developed the theory of packet switching as part of his PhD research), and UCLA's new Connection Lab, which will open in 2019, thanks to a $5M gift to honor his achievements.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Just one of Donald Trump's many lies to get votes: I will fight for LGBT freedoms and beliefs. [Tweet]
- Jared Kushner comes out of hiding and grants an interview on his relationship with MBS and other topics.
- Turkey says it has evidence Khashoggi's murder was premeditated, planned days in advance.
- Body-double is seen leaving the Saudi consulate in Ankara wearing Khashoggi's clothes, after he was killed.
- "Never before has a president been so determined not to be the president of all Americans." ~ Newsweek
- Director Oliver Stone's speech at the 2017 Writers Guild Awards, with Persian subtitles.
- When walls look like this, you know you are in the arts area of the campus!
- Humor: Democrats in Egypt egged the Jews to form a caravan of thousands and head to the land of Israel.
- Giant 200-meters-long sinkhole reveals enormous secret cave complex in Guangxi, China.
- NYer cartoon: "First you choose a protein, then some toppings, then you choose a Senator to publicly scold."
(5) "The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Cybersecurity": Computer Science Professor Giovanni Vigna spoke at Loma Pelona center on the UCSB Campus in the afternoon of Monday, October 22. The talk was part of UCSB's showcasing of its national prominence in cybersecurity research (under the direction of Professors Giovanni Vigna, Christopher Kruegel, and Dick Kemmerer) during National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. The talk's take-away was that even though cybersecurity will always remain an intrinsically human undertaking, much of the grunt work, data collection, and anomaly detection can be automated, so that human experts can focus on higher-level issues and more serious threats. [Images]

2018/10/21 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A helicopter installs a section of antenna mast of the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada, 1975 Poison cabinet disguised as a book, 17th century Chevrolet Impala ad, 1959 (1) History in pictures: [Left] A helicopter installs a section of antenna mast of the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada, 1975. [Center] Poison cabinet disguised as a book, 17th century. [Right] Chevrolet Impala ad, 1959.
(2) Nikki Haley's not-so-subtle jab at Donald Trump: "In our toxic political life, I've heard some people in both parties describe their opponents as enemies or evil. In America, our political opponents are not evil. In South Sudan, where rape is routinely used as a weapon of war, that is evil. In Syria, where the dictator uses chemical weapons to murder innocent children, that is evil. In North Korea, where American student Otto Warmbier was tortured to death, that was evil. In the last two years, I've seen true evil. We have some serious political differences here at home. But our opponents are not evil, they're just our opponents."
(3) A snag on the path to colonizing Mars: People and devices must be shielded against harmful solar and cosmic radiation, whose levels are much higher on Mars than on Earth, which has an atmospheric shield. But using an aluminum shield, which needs to be at least 7 mm thick, is impractical, as it imposes unrealistic load on spacecraft. A new radiation-shielding system that uses high-voltage electric cables to generate an electromagnetic field to protect modular colonies is being evaluated for use on Mars.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- John Bolton is taking us toward war with Iran and other adversaries. John Kelly apparently opposes him.
- Hot off the press: The Art If the Deal: New Presidential Edition. [Cartoon]
- Cartoon of the day: The recently completed Supreme Court of the United States of America. [Image]
- Saying: "When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression."
- Quote: "The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge." ~ Bertrand Russell
- Another video in the "People Are Awesome" series. [Parts of the audio may be muted for some viewers]
(5) Report: I have put together a report on UCSB Iranian Studies Initiative's Fourth Annual Conference with the theme "Slavery and Sexual Labor in the Middle East & North Africa," held on October 19-20, 2018, at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House. Here are links to the report on Facebook, my Blog & Books page, and Twitter.
(6) [Final thought for the day] My message to a student, who is taking a leave of absence because of a hospitalized, terminally-ill father: "I am so sorry to hear about your family emergency. I hope you can take a leave of absence as planned and can spend some time with your dad. There are certain events we cannot control and, thus, we must be satisfied with expending the best effort to deal with them. Wishing you the patience and resolve to deal with the inevitable loss." [Sharing this message, because most of us have to deal with terminally ill loved ones in the course of our lives. When people work or study under us, we must show compassion as fellow human-beings, rather then deal with the problem administratively.]

2018/10/20 (Saturday): Fourth Annual Conference of UCSB's Iranian Studies Initiative:
Poster for the Fourth Annual Conference of UCSB's Iranian Studies Initiative Held on October 19-20, 2018, at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House, the Fourth Annual Conference of the Iranian Studies Initiative, with multiple institutional and individual sponsors, was entitled "Slavery and Sexual Labor in the Middle East & North Africa." The program and my notes follow. These notes do not replace the abstracts, which are found on the conference's program Web page, but are meant to reflect my own take-aways from each presentation, where I could pay attention and understood the key points. I also include here some photos from the conference and the UCSB campus. Here are direct links to this report and its Facebook version for sharing.
Friday morning, October 19, 2018
[8:45-9:00] Coffee and tea
[9:00-9:15] Opening: Eric Massie (Conference Organizer, UCSB); Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar (Director, Middle East Studies Program, Santa Barbara City College); Janet Afary (Director, Iranian Studies Initiative, UCSB)
[9:15-9:30] Welcome by Dean John Majewski (Michael Douglas Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, UCSB): Besides welcoming the attendees on behalf of the UCSB administration, Dean Majewski talked about his own research (Civil War, economics of slavery) that intersected with the theme of the conference. He praised the conference organizers for their triple achievement: Merging the discussion of slave labor with sexual exploitation, which is more than just forced labor of a certain kind; Bringing together work from the humanities and social sciences and enriching the discussion with a photo exhibit; Shining a light on the contemporary plight of Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi women, as well as exploitation of children, in the Persian Gulf region.
[9:30-10:45] Panel 1: Intimates and Familiars: Marriage, Slaves, and Family
Chair: Behnaz Mirzai (Dept. History, Brock U., Canada)
Eric Massie (UCSB), "The Bonds that Bind: Slavery and Familial Relations in the Persian Gulf, 19th and 20th Centuries": Massie drew from 1920s records on ~1000 slaves, compiled in south Iran by British consular officers, to paint a picture of slavery and its management structures, including the use of slaves for reproduction, in the Persian Gulf region. The data can be said to also cover the late 1800s, given that some of the slaves in question were quite old when cataloged. Massie shows that, as international treaties banned the importation of slaves, owners resorted to slave reproduction within their households in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar (SBCC), "Temporary and Permanent Marriages at the Court of Fath Ali Shah Qajar": Eskandari-Qajar, a descendant of his subject (Fath Ali Shah), asked for considering the nuances of slavery and associated temporary marriages, although he took pains to explain that he is not an apologist for either. He went on to assert that temporary marriages in 19th-century Iran, particularly in the royal court, should not be criticized on the basis of today's norms.
Anthony A. Lee (UCLA), "Ziba Khanum of Yazd: An Enslaved African Woman in Nineteenth-Century Iran": Lee began by relating that most Iranians are surprised to learn about slavery, particularly the presence of African slaves, in Iran. The demand in the 19th century was primarily for female slaves, as domestic servants for the rich, and for eunuchs. Male slaves to work in the pearl-diving industry came later in the 20th century. The story of Ziba Khanum, a slave who gave birth to a son who later became rich and successful, is a previously undocumented case study for slavery in Iran. Here, we see a slave who was "um walid" (with child from her master) whose son did not inherit from the slavemaster/father, even though the master did recognize the child as his son. Instead, the son moved out, joined the Baha'i community in Palestine, became a wealthy merchant, and enabled his mother to move out.
Discussion: The distinction between field slaves and domestic slaves came up, as being applicable everywhere and not just in Iran and other parts of the Middle East. The latter type enjoyed higher status, often becoming sexual partners of their masters or the masters' children. It was also pointed out that talking about "domestic slaves" may sugar-coat a practice that is just as exploitative as other kinds of slavery.
Ladan Rahbari (U. Ghent, Belgium), "All the King's Slaves: Vulnerability and Sexual Captivity during the Safavid Period" [Rahbari was not in attendance due to visa problems, but her written paper was read by Eric Massie in the time allotted to Panel 2]: Ethnicity of slaves affected their status and rights. Dark-skinned slaves/eunuchs were trusted to be in the inner court, whereas lighter-skinned slaves were used to guard the outer court. Sometimes, free men were castrated and sold into slavery. People in debt were also enslaved at times as a way of repaying their debt.
[10:45-11:00] Coffee and tea
[11:00-11:45] Panel 2: Manumission and Murder: The Legal Boundaries of Slavery
Chair: Ahmad Atif Ahmad (Dept. Religious Studies, UCSB)
Ozgul Ozdemir (Stanford U.), "Murder in the Palace: The Trial of a Sudanese Eunuch and the Position of Enslaved Africans in the Ottoman Palace" [Ozdemir was not in attendance]
Ismail Warscheid (National Center for Scientific Research, France), "Saharan Qadis and their Proteges: Women, Orphans, Slaves in the Islamic Courts of Tuwat, Southern Algeria (1750-1850)": Much can be learned from Islamic legal documents and fatwas about the history of women and other marginalized groups in the Middle East and North Africa. Warscheid's field work in southern Algeria has revealed interesting dependencies and tensions between individual rights and authority structures.
[11:45-12:30] Panel 3: Prostitution and Erotic Performance in the Late Ottoman Empire
Chair: Juan Campo (Dept. Religious Studies, UCSB)
Orlin Sabev (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), "Imperial Power and Non-Manageable Lust: Prostitution in Late Ottoman Society": Sabev observed that punishment for prostitution often entailed deportation and, less frequently, execution. People were told that prostitutes could be killed with impunity. Later, tightly managed brothels were allowed as a practical strategy for dealing with a problem that could not be eradicated.
Erik Blackthorne-O'Barr (Columbia U.), "Between the Street and the Stage: Erotic and Sexual Performance in Late Ottoman Istanbul": Sexual/Erotic performances were sometimes embedded inside more conventional acts, thereby giving them legitimacy. Certain low-brow, apolitical acts were exempted from censorship, because they were viewed as non-threatening to the nationalistic narrative.
[12:30-2:00] Lunch
Participants in Saturday morning's panel at UCSB's Iranian Studies Initiative Conference Friday afternoon, October 19, 2018
[2:00-2:30] Keynote lecture
Chair: Janet Afary (Director, Iranian Studies Initiative, UCSB)
Speaker: Joanna de Groot (Dept. History, U. York) "'Servitude'?, 'Slavery'?, 'Sexual Labor'?: Reflections on the Uses and Usefulness of these Terms for the Study of Iran and the Middle East": Notions of coercion, human trafficking, and commerce intersect with another set of notions, namely, family, marriage, the household, personal desire, and intimacy, in the field of sexual relations. Power relations, as reflected in class-, race-, and gender-based regimes of enslavement and subordination, play dominant roles in all aspects of sexual servitude/labor.
[2:30-3:30] Panel 4: Framing Slavery and Prostitution in Photography, Literature, and Film in Qajar Iran and Zanzibar
Chair: Anthony A. Lee (Dept. History, UCLA)
Pedram Khosronejad (Oklahoma State U.), "Photographs as Objects of Sexual Desire in Iran (1860s -1970s)": Khosronejad, who also curated a photo exhibit in which photography or video-recording was disallowed, described how the passion for photography developed among the Qajar royals and spread from there to the general public, leading to the establishment of several photographic studios. Today, we distinguish several categories of nude photos (erotic, nude art, pornography), although the boundaries are quite fuzzy. In the Qajar-era Iran, all nude photos were referred to as "sovar-e ghabiheh" (forbidden images). Nasser al-Din Shah personally photographed his harem women in various states of nudity. Some of these nude photos have become public, although this was likely not his intention.
Staci Gem Scheiwiller (California State U., Stanislaus), "Photography and Prostitution in Qajar Iran (1785- 1925)": Photography changed the face of prostitution in Qajar-era Iran, because it allowed common prostitutes to achieve fame and name recognition, becoming "visual celebrities." Nude photos were publicly traded, and nude photography was viewed as a kind of pimping. Safavid-era Isfahan had a surprisingly large number of prostitutes. Prostitution was rampant and largely unregulated in the Qajar era. Women were described through the dichotomy of public woman ("faahesheh") and private woman ("najeeb"), when public space was synonymous with male space. In a way, through their rebellious breaking of norms, sex workers foreshadowed the liberated modern Iranian women.
Emily O'Dell (Yale U.), "Memories of Slavery in Zanzibar Rendered in Literature, Testimonials, and Film": O'Dell, who has lived for several years in Oman, where slavery was a taboo topic for discussion until very recently, related that Doha, Qatar, now boasts a museum of slavery. Stories of slavery are preserved in photos, films, and novels. Not all such stories are accurate and, indeed, some are hotly contested. As an example, O'Dell cited "Africa Addio," a 1966 film (sometimes characterized as a "shockumentary") about the end of the colonial era in Africa, which includes footage of the Zanzibar Revolution and associated massacres.
[3:30-3:45] Coffee and tea
[3:45-4:45] Panel 5: Sex Traffic and Unfree Labor in the Contemporary Middle East (1)
Chair: Eileen Boris (Dept. Feminist Studies, UCSB)
Kathryn Hain (Independent Scholar), "The longue duree of Sex Slavery in the Muslim Mediterranean": The French expression "longue duree" is used in historical writing as a synonym for "the long term." Possession of a large numbers of slaves, particularly concubines and eunuchs, sometimes numbering in the hundreds or even thousands, was a status symbol among Muslim rulers and elites. The official end of royal harems came in the early 1900s, although the practice of owning slaves and sex workers did not completely disappear.
Sawsan Karimi (U. Bahrain), "Slavery and Colonialism: An Anthropological Review" [was not in attendance]
Sriyani Tidball (U. Nebraska-Lincoln), "Slavery of Sri Lankan Housemaids in the Middle East": Sri Lankan domestic and sex workers in the Persian Gulf region and several other Middle Eastern countries are exploited, in large part because the government of Sri Lanka isn't motivated to deal with the abuse. The reason is primarily economic, as such workers constitute one of the three pillars of the country's economy. In addition to being exploited overseas, such workers face harassment and hostility upon returning home.
Discussion: It was pointed out that one should not think that slave trade ended because the British outlawed it. In fact, after slavery was outlawed, slave trade increased substantially, expanding into Iran and other parts of the Middle East.
[4:45-5:00] Coffee and tea
[5:00-6:00] Panel 6: Sex Traffic and Unfree Labor in the Contemporary Middle East (2)
Chair: Alison Brysk (Dept. Global Studies)
Muhammad Ala Uddin (U. Chittagong, Bangladesh), "Slavery, Sex, and Remittance: Exploring the Plight of the Bangladeshi Women Migrants in the Middle East": The plight of Bangladeshi women is quite similar to those of Sri Lankan women, discussed in the previous talk. Some 70% of these women experience physical abuse and about 25% report sexual assault by their masters and the masters' relatives/friends. Many ended up returning home without pay, where they were further stigmatized by their own community, because they were assumed to have performed sexual labor while away.
Kevin Dupont (The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts U.), "A Life of Glitz and Horror: An Examination of Female Trafficking into the GCC States and the Levant" [GCC stands for "Gulf Cooperation Council"]: Sex workers, lured to the Persian Gulf region in search of opportunities and good pay, soon find out that such opportunities do not exist. Instead, they are trapped in forced sex and servitude. The extensive black market provides the monetary motive for traders, while the US and other countries avoid intervening in human security issues. Thus, the widespread abuse is very difficult to stop.
Martin Jorgensen (Aalborg U., Denmark), "A Few Bad Apples? UN Peacekeepers, Prostitution and Sexual Abuse in the Gaza Strip, Cairo and Beirut": The widespread abuse by UN peacekeeping force (in the late 1950s and 1960s) was exacerbated by alcohol use and a "boys will be boys" attitude on the part of higher-ups. UN blamed the sex workers and not the peacekeepers and seemed to be primarily worried about the VD epidemic, rather than the well-being of the local population. It essentially aimed to protect its workforce from women, not the other wary around. Similar conduct by international agencies continues to this day.
Discussion: Governments which are pro-active in negotiating working conditions and worker safety with the Persian Gulf states have been able to secure some measure of protection for their migrant workers. On another front, while the protection of female migrant workers is indeed quite important, male migrant workers face similar abuse, in much larger numbers. Although, it must be mentioned that men at least have a chance to spend time in groups outside working hours, whereas women are often confined to their masters' quarters even after hours. Child labor is also a serious problem.
[6:00-8:30] Dinner at the Faculty Club and Performance by UCSB's Middle East Ensemble
Poster for the 'Unveiling the Veiled' photo exhibition Saturday, October 20, 2018
Pedram Khosronejad (curator), "Unveiling the Veiled: Royal Consorts, Slaves and Prostitutes in Qajar Photographs"
Location: UCSB Room: Alumni Hall
Here are links, provided by Dr. Khosronejad, in lieu of the UCSB exhibit in which photography and video recording was disallowed. Photos and captions: Part 1, Part 2; Guardian interview
[9:30-10:30] Coffee and tea
Chair: Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar (Santa Barbara City College)
Speakers: Pedram Khosronejad (Oklahoma State U.); Houman M. Sarshar (Founder/Director of Kimia Foundation)
The photos in the exhibit, as well as the larger collection from which they were drawn, are private and were taken in natural settings. This is how Nasser al-Din Shah's wives and slaves dressed on a daily basis. Other than the poses, nothing else is staged. Only recently the existence of these photos, previously possessed by private collectors, has become public knowledge. There are a dozen or so researchers worldwide who study Qajar-era photography, doing so mostly in the historical context. Very few are looking at the social significance of these photos (women's status, slavery, sex).
Houman Sarshar, an independent scholar and founder of Kimia Foundation (which apparently does not have an on-line presence), related that he bought some 5000 Qajar-era photographs, now forming part of the Foundation's resources. The set includes complete albums that tell fascinating stories. A 2-volume book based on these photos is being published. Volume 1 will contain a definitive biography of Doust-Ali Khan Moayer al-Mamalek (Nezam al-Dowleh), a skilled photographer who kept in touch with other photographers around the world. Volume 2 will cover his architectural photos, among other things.
[10:30-12:00] Roundtable Discussion on the Exhibition
Chair: Janet Afary (Director, Iranian Studies Initiative, UCSB)
Speakers: Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar, Pedram Khosronejad, Houman M. Sarshar, Staci Gem Scheiwiller, Behnaz Mirzai, Anthony A. Lee, Joanna De Groot
Many different viewpoints about the photo collection and exhibit were expressed during the discussion. One view was that displaying nude photos of women, in many cases without the mention of any names, objectifies them, given that the average viewer may not think that there is a deeper narrative involved. A counterpoint view was that the women were called by different names in different settings, so their real names are unknown for the most part. Photo studios which owned nude photo collections sometimes assigned random names to the women, much like numbers, for identification purposes. A customer would go looking for photos of this or that woman. Such names were created solely for the purpose of male consumption and had nothing to do with the subject women's identities.
In these photos, we are looking at the women through the eyes of the king: What he wanted us to see or, perhaps, what he wanted to see himself. Whether the women were the king's permanent or temporary wives, they had prominent places in the court, thus making them different from European or Ottoman concubines. Anthony Lee argued that in depictions of slavery in the US, it would be inconceivable not to include names, even if given slave names, and other textual information that would provide context for the exhibited images. Absence of such data would be deemed a denigration of the voiceless subjects. Others argued that there exists substantial information about the lives of harem women and slaves of the Qajar era that should have been posted alongside the photos to provide context.
[12:30 PM] Janet Afary, Closing remarks

2018/10/19 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Are you ready to shift your complaints from the heat to the cold? (Cartoon from 'The New Yorker') Pumpkins, as we approach Halloween, Thanksgiving, and pumpkin-spice-latte season! Time magazine's cover photo, issue of October 22, 2018, warns that even when Trump is gone, Trumpism will linger on. (1) Cartoons: [Left] Are you ready to shift your complaints from the heat to the cold? (From: The New Yorker) [Center] Pumpkins, as we approach Halloween, Thanksgiving, and pumpkin-spice-latte season! [Right] Time magazine's cover photo of October 22, 2018, warns that even when Trump is gone, Trumpism will linger on.
(2) It seems that the US gave the Saudis just enough time to manufacture a story about Jamal Kashoggi's murder: He started a fight at the Saudi consulate in Ankara, which led to his death!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- "Fingerprints" of 3D printers will facilitate tracing 3D-printed guns.
- Cartoon of the day: Nikki Haley, who helped gut the US image in the global community, is leaving. [Image]
- Second cartoon of the day: Tsunami of plastic trash. [Image]
- Iranian variety TV of yore: Fereydoun Farrokhzad is featured in this 10-minute video compilation.
(4) Image and video forensics: On Thursday, October 18, 2018, Dr. Hany Farid (Professor and Chair of Computer Science Department at Dartmouth) spoke in the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind seminar series, under the title "Reining in Social-Media Abuses: From Fake News, to Extremism, and Child Exploitation." This is a very timely topic and Dr. Farid's research on the subject is first-rate. Among Dr. Farid's accomplishments, as Senior Adviser for the Counter Extremism Project, is the unveiling of a software tool for use by Internet and social-media companies to find and eliminate extremist content used to spread and incite violence and attacks.
Photos are compared via their signatures, using schemes such as MD5 hash, which count on identical photos producing identical or very similar signatures. In dealing with child pornography, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible with today's technology, to automatically identify images that constitute undesirable content. It is much easier, however, to stop redistribution, which is a significant fraction of images posted by those involved in child pornography. Given a database of previously identified pornographic images, one needs to compare signatures of new content with the signatures of images in the database, setting a match threshold for screening. PhotoDNA does a very good job in such matchings; its practical use has led to the elimination of more than 10 million images in 2017 alone.
Comparing videos is much harder than images, because of the large number of frames involved. However, given that video imagery does not change much from one frame to the next (especially in the typical terrorism-related videos, where one person stands and delivers a message), it is possible to remove much content by focusing on "key frames." Clearly, the key frames chosen from two different videos may not be the same, leading to different numerical sequences for two similar videos. A process similar to DNA sequence matching can be employed to establish the degree of similarity. Interestingly, such algorithms have been used successfully to compare encrypted videos directly.
We are now at a point that highly realistic fake videos can be produced by tools such as DeepFake, where a speaker says whatever we want him/her to say. The current scheme takes an actual video of the speaker and modifies the lip movements to match the new narrative, spoken by an impersonator. The way digital cameras and video recorders work, we can distinguish such modified elements, but there is a real arms race in progress between fakers and those whose mission is to detect fakery.
Unfortunately, social media companies lack incentives to stop the distribution of harmful content. For example, Facebook was told about violence against the Rohingya, largely fueled by social-media posts, but did nothing about it for a long time. There is a delicate balance between ensuring free speech and providing safety to users. Child pornography and beheadings are clearly wrong, but the boundary isn't so clear in every case. We need to work on finding a happy medium. It is quite telling that our tech industry protected copyright owners before it protected children! [Images]

2018/10/18 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Statue of John Lennon in Cuba Calligraphic rendering of a verse by Mowlavi (Rumi)
PhotoShopped or real image? That is the problem (1) Art/curiosities from around the world: [Left] Statue of John Lennon in Cuba. [Center] Calligraphic rendering of a verse by Mowlavi (Rumi). [Right] PhotoShopped or real image? That is the question! Can you explain?
(2) Parvin Bakhtiarnejad dead at 56: Here's the PDF file of the late women's-rights activist's third book, Tragedy of Silence: Honor Killings (in Persian), which she published on-line after Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance denied her a publication permit.
(3) Quote of the day: "Patience is not sitting and waiting, it is foreseeing. It is looking at the thorn and seeing the rose, looking at the night and seeing the day." ~ Shams Tabrizi
(4) Tweet of grammatically-challenged Trump parsed: He ends his tweet, gloating over the dismissal of Stormy Daniels' defamation lawsuit against him, while also insulting her looks, thus: "She knows nothing about me, a total con!" He is admitting that he is "a total con"!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Misogyny/racism in full view: Top Republicans join President Trump in mocking Senator Elizabeth Warren.
- Republicans talk like Democrats on issues such as healthcare and #MeToo, at least until the midterms.
- Ayatollah Putin: "Aggressors against Russia will be destroyed and Russians will go to heaven as martyrs."
- If only our politicians were as enlightened as those on TV fiction: Nationalism isn't the same as patriotism.
- MIT's new AI college to train "bilingual" scientists, conversant in computing and another scientific field.
- Sad and joyous at the same time: Deprived children use their ingenuity to make up for lack of resources.
(6) Spotting fake videos is getting harder: It's a virtual arms race between fake-content creators and academics bent on exposing them. Computer scientist Siwei Lyu wrote a paper about how the unnatural eye-blinking rates of fake videos could be used for detection, and posted the paper on-line. Weeks later, fake-video software had evolved to remove the problem. [See my post of tomorrow about image and video forensics.]
(7) John Bolton and John Kelly get into a shouting match at the White House: Trump who witnessed at least part of the altercation feigns ignorance; Sarah Sanders blames the Democrats!
(8) [Final thought for the day] Judgment is just lazy thinking: When you see something new, your brain goes into overdrive until you identify it and assign a noun to it ("Oh, that's a fork"); you then relax and stop thinking. The same is true with regard to people ("Oh, that's a Latino/feminist/Republican"). Stoppage of thinking at this point makes you miss all the nuances.

2018/10/17 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Heart equation Einstein explained: Energy = More coffee (more even!) Schrodinger's cat (1) A few important equations explained: [Left] Heart equation. [Center] Energy = More coffee (more even!) [Right] Schrodinger's cat.
(2) Underground cities in Iran's Isfahan Province: The Koohpayeh underground city, located 4-16 meters deep, was apparently built as a war shelter. This one, in Kord-e-Olia village, is similar in layout and architecture to Rome's Catacombs.
(3) The early years of Donald Trump, the self-made billionaire: He started right away after being born, built an entrepreneurial lemonade stand at six, then had a successful paper route, an exclusive tree-house club for pals who could afford the fees, and a little help from the Tooth Fairy! [Five cartoons from The New Yorker]
(4) China's 'artificial moon' will replace street lamps in a very wide area on Earth. Russia experimented with, and ultimately failed in deploying, a similar system in the early 1990s. Much has changed since then, both in satellite technology and in our ability to finely control thousands of small mirrors for precision lighting.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Terrorism in Crimea: Lone 18-year-old kills 18 people by gun and bomb attack on a college campus.
- A man with that face, hair, and body should not insult women for their physical appearance!
- Beto O'Rourke attacks Ted Cruz during debate via referring to him by his Trump-given nickname.
- WP runs a new Jamal Khashoggi column in which he warns that Middle East governments silence the media.
- This is what a tsunami does to cars and everything else on its path of destruction. [Video]
- A Republican group invites Gavin McInnes, founder of the violent neo-fascist gang The Proud Boys, to speak.
(6) "White Right: Meeting the Enemy": This 60-minute film, screened tonight at UCSB's Multicultural Center Theater, tells the story of the daughter of a Pakistani immigrant who joins racist groups to try to understand their viewpoints and strategies. Quite informative and eye-opening!
(7) World Music Series: Today's noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl featured the Santa-Barbara-based group Ewe Drums and Dance ("Ewe" is pronounced "eh-weh"). Ewe music, from certain regions of Africa, is explained in one of these photos. This 4-minute video shows a sample music/dance from today's performance.

2018/10/16 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fall colors in Utah, USA Spring colors near Kermanshah, Kurdistan Province, Iran Summer fruits and vegetables on display in Tajrish Bazaar, north Tehran, Iran (1) Our beautiful Earth: [Left] Fall colors in Utah, USA. [Center] Spring colors near Kermanshah, Kurdistan Province, Iran. [Right] Summer fruits and vegetables on display in Tajrish Bazaar, north Tehran, Iran.
(2) Digital literacy: One of the most successful and widespread efforts to make the general public computer-literate was implemented in the former Soviet Union, when, beginning in 1985, ninth graders took a compulsory course entitled "Basics of Informatics and Computing Technology." At the time, very few Soviet households or even schools had personal computers, so programmable calculators, such as the Elektronika B3-34 filled in the void. [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of October 2018]
(3) A woman by any other name: Islamic Republic of Iran officials tend to refer to women as "baanovaan" (plural of "baanoo"). On the surface, "baanoo" appears to be more respectful than "zan" (similar to "lady" versus "woman"), but much sexism is hidden in the word and the way it is used.
(4) Whither computer-aided instruction? For much of the 20th century, people wanted to replace the chalkboard, the textbook, and the teacher with computers. What happened? [Opinion piece by Roderick N. Crooks (UC Irvine), "Critical Failure: Computer-Aided Instruction and the Fantasy of Information," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2018.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Saudis' latest defense: We did not intend to kill Kashoggi; we just wanted to kidnap him for interrogation!
- Colbert on Trump's comments re Senator Warren: Who cares? You sir! You're literally the only one!
- John Oliver's brilliant monologue on the relationship between Trump and Saudi Arabia. [18-minute video]
- Sign of the times: Haji Mohammad's shishlik, advertised on large high-tech display board in Iran.
- Quote of the day: "The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing." ~ Isaac Asimov
(6) "Harlan County, USA": This classic and highly acclaimed 1976 documentary was screened at UCSB's Pollock Theater tonight. The film is about the struggles of coal-mining communities of Appalachia (including very active and vocal woman), which led to improvements in wages and mine-safety regulations. Director Barbara Kopple presents an intimate portrait of the communities, unions, protest organizers, and law-enforcement officers. A very interesting discussion between Betsy Taylor (Director of Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network) and moderator Alice O'Connor (History, UCSB) and audience Q&A followed the screening. Among the topics discussed were connections between the labor organization efforts depicted in the film and the Civil Rights Movement, as well as political corruption fed by the energy industry, which extended to both local/national politicians and labor-union leaders. [Photos] [Link to the full documentary on YouTube]
A few short clips I recorded at the screening: [Video clip 1] [Video clip 2] [Video clip 3] [Video clip 4]

2018/10/15 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A variation on Sudoku: Each row, column, and stream (connected set of circles) should contain all the numbers 1 to 6 Puzzle: Can you find the animal hidden in this drawing? Visual puzzle: Stare at the upper white dot in this image for a while. Then, stare at the lower white dot. Explain the faint red color you see on the lower right and the faint green color on the lower left (1) Some puzzles: [Left] A variation on Sudoku: Each row, column, and stream (connected set of circles) should contain all the numbers 1 to 6. [Center] Can you find the animal hidden in this drawing? [Right] Visual puzzle: Stare at the upper white dot in this image for a while. Then, stare at the lower white dot. Explain the faint red color you see on the lower right and the faint green color on the lower left.
(2) Our short attention span: We have already moved on past discussing Hurricane Michael, but Panama City residents continue to suffer from lack of water and electricity.
(3) Exa-ops (10^12 operations per second) barrier broken: Using climate data from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on NVIDIA tensor cores built into Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Summit supercomputer, a team of computational scientists trained the DeepLabv3+ neural network to identify extreme weather patterns from high-resolution climate simulations. The computation achieved a sustained performance very close to the peak of 1.13 exa-ops, making it the fastest deep learning algorithm ever reported.
(4) Fake news: Trump's figure of $110 billion in military contracts, cited as an excuse for not getting tough with Saudi Arabia, is all smoke and mirrors. Defense industry experts indicate that there are only a bunch of "letters of intent" at this point; no contract has been signed.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Ford Motor company chairman cancels visit to Saudi investor conference over the Khashoggi disappearance.
- Bodies of 11 deceased infants were found in the ceiling of a shuttered funeral home in Detroit.
- An icon of American retail declares bankruptcy: The catalog sales model that Sears pioneered survives.
- Data mining exposes Russian Twitter-troll campaigns in the US, Germany, and France.
- Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen dead of lymphoma at 65.
(6) Are traffic lights headed for extinction? According to the cover feature of IEEE Spectrum, issue of October 2018, communicative cars of the future will negotiate intersections, without a need for traffic lights, cutting commute times by 1/3 in the process. Cars collectively controlling their own traffic may be an idea whose time has come. What about pedestrians and bicyclists? In the short term, they will be handled by special priority provisions. Longer-term solutions may involve everyone carrying a personal navigation device. [Cover image]
(7) Elektro the Moto-Man: This 1930s robot by Westinghouse talked via pre-recorded snippets and could do a few other things too. [Source: IEEE Spectrum, issue of October 2018]

2018/10/14 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Colorful tray of fruits and vegetables Fall colors, somewhere in the eastern United States Pomegranates of various colors, and persimmons (1) Our beautiful Earth (fall colors, somewhere in the eastern United States), and its bounty, including my two most-favorite fruits (appearing on the right), which happen to be in season now.
(2) Fiftieth anniversary of the North Hall Takeover: On October 14, 1968, a group of black students barricaded themselves in North Hall on the UCSB campus to protest unequal treatment and passive-aggressive racism they faced as Black athletes and as members of the campus community at large. A UCSB conference marks this act of civil disobedience, which brought attention not only to the circumstances of black students, but also to those of their fellow classmates who did not see themselves reflected in academia.
(3) Confessions of a map aficionado: I have multiple maps at my home and at my office. A couple of decades ago, before GPS and Google Maps took over, I had a thick stack of now-obsolete AAA folding maps at home and in my car. I have kept some of those as mementos. So, I found this Web site that gives you a zoomable map of all the buildings in the US quite interesting.
(4) The girl who may become the next Maryam Mirzakhani: Zahra Zavieh, an Iranian girl from Urmia, has earned a gold medal in the International Math Olympiad. The team from Iran finished second overall. On a friend's post of this story, someone commented "Good for Silicon Valley"!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Eight members of an expedition are dead and another is missing after a snowstorm at Nepal's Mount Gurja.
- Defense Secretary James Mattis is a "sort of a Democrat" and may soon leave his post, according to Trump.
- Bodies of 11 deceased infants were found in the ceiling of a shuttered funeral home in Detroit.
- Ford Motor company chairman cancels visit to Saudi investor conference over the Khashoggi disappearance.
(6) Early Persian Printing and Typography in Europe: Interesting 19-minute lecture by Borna Izadpanah (PhD student of Professor Fiona G. E. Ross, a specialist on typography and graphic design at U. Reading, UK), delivered in September 2018, which I discovered based on feedback from a scholar, who commented on a draft of my forthcoming paper on computers and challenges of writing in Persian. I am pursuing this lecture and other information sources I have just discovered and will write about some of them as I learn more.
(7) Windy-afternoon stroll: After dining at Los Agaves in Goleta, my daughter and I walked home via the recently restored UCSB North Campus Open Space. The bridge behind us in this photo was built as part of the new trail, that goes over an extension of the Devereux Slough into the area formerly occupied by a golf course.
(8) Final thought for the day: Having made a post about the wonderful world of maps earlier today, I came across this humorous generic map of "every European city" and thought to share it too.

2018/10/13 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
(1) Book review: Picoult, Jodi, Small Great Things: A Novel, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Audra McDonald (with Cassandra Campbell and Ari Fiakos), Random House Audio, 2016.
Cover image for Jody Picoult's 'Small Great Things' [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Picoult tackles the problem of racism in a thoughtful and engaging way. Her story shows the intersection of three lives, as main characters, and a few other people who work and live with them: Ruth, a middle-aged black nurse working at the labor and delivery unit of a hospital; Turk, a racist young man whose equally racist wife gives birth to a son at the hospital; and Kennedy (first name), a female public defender who represents Ruth when the couple pursues murder charges against her.
This is a great book from which to learn about the lives and outlooks of a diverse group of people. Each chapter is written from the vantage point of one of the main characters, with overlapping narratives showing how the same events may be interpreted in widely different ways by those experiencing or witnessing them.
Ruth is a conscientious and competent professional, but she carries the burden of years of oppression and injustice, swallowing her pride and trying hard to protect her son from a similar fate. She relates the difficulties inherent in her line of work, with its 12-hour shifts, as well as the additional hurdles she faces as a black person in a still-racist society.
Turk relates stories from his youth that shaped his world outlook and his involvement in White Supremacist and other race-based hate groups. He forces the hospital staff to ban Ruth from caring for, or even touching, his newborn, by threatening to cause a scene. When staff shortages during an emergency force Ruth to administer CPR to the newborn, who later dies, the stage is set for conflict.
Kennedy, the public defender, is so busy with her career and the heavy workload it entails that she does not have time to take care of herself, causing her mom to book a massage therapy session for her to prevent a gift certificate she had gotten from expiring. She disagrees with her client about the best defense strategy (whether or not to play the race card), which creates much tension, as the courtroom drama unfolds.
This is a well-researched and carefully constructed story that conveys the various dimensions of racism and how it affects the lives of Americans, as they go about their daily lives and when they hit crisis points.
(2) You have no doubt experienced or heard about horrible PowerPoint presentations: My Persian-speaking readers will have fun (vexation?) with this PPT slide!
(3) Today's double-celebration: We celebrated, with members of our extended family and a few friends, my older son's birthday and the 30th anniversary of my immediate family's arrival in Southern California (all 30 years at our current residence in Goleta) and my work at UCSB. [Photos] David Tovar, a super-talented local musician provided the entertainment; samples follow.
["Under the Boardwalk"] ["I Blessed the Day I Found You"] ["You Look Wonderful Tonight"] ["Peaceful Easy Feeling"] ["Ring of Fire"] [An instrumental piece]

2018/10/12 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Silencing women
Violence against women Glass ceiling in the worlds of literature and publishing, where women actually dominate (1) Red, white, and black: Interestingly, several articles I have came across recently all used the same color scheme in their illustrations. The articles were about silencing women (#MeToo, etc.), violence against women, and the glass ceiling, even in the worlds of literature and publishing, where women actually dominate.
(2) Trump is reluctant to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia for a journalist's disappearance: Rich people get mere slaps on the wrist in our justice system. Internationally, too, rich countries literally get away with murder.
(3) Mystery memo raises concerns over the Chinese ties of Broadcom, which now wants to acquire Computer Associates Technologies, a company with sensitive contracts involving the US power grid and Pentagon.
(4) When an anti-science and anti-intellectual boor takes power and surrounds himself with other dolts, climate change becomes a Chinese hoax and Kanye West emerges as a presidential adviser. Please vote!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hurricane Michael's death toll will surely rise beyond the 14 so far, as the "war zone" search continues.
- Trees and structures are mangled by Hurricane Michael, a result of the Chinese "Global Warming" hoax.
- National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report cites ineptitude/neglect in MA gas explosions.
- Another Facebook hack: Records of nearly 30 million users compromised and their data stolen.
- Encyclopedia of Big Data Technologies is on-line in full: The print version is expected in early 2019.
- My cousin Parviz Parhami was honored as a distinguished alumnus of U. Illinois in October 12 ceremonies.
(6) "It's a Scary Time for Boys": I had posted the song with this title before, but Jimmy Kimmel brought the singer/songwriter and a whole bunch of women and girls to his show to sing this version.
(7) Trump teaches his version of American history, with a nod to Brett Kavanaugh's drinking problem: When other generals failed, heavy-drinker Ulysses S. Grant defeated "the great general" Robert E. Lee.
(8) Quote of the day: "I'm a mother and a first lady, and I have much more important things to think about and to do." ~ Melania Trump, sidestepping a question about her husband's affairs
(9) Final thought for the day: The US is no longer on the top-20 list of the most democratic countries. Donald Trump is taking us towards his friends at #159 (Saudi Arabia) and #167 (North Korea). [Chart]

2018/10/11 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranian girl Girl from unknown region, 1 Girl from unknown region, 2 (1) Happy International Day of the Girl 2018: Hoping that someday, all the girls around the world will have much to smile about! [International Business Times report]
(2) UCSB's environmental leadership: Nearing completion on its ecological restoration of a former golf course, UCSB opens the first public trail at North Campus Open Space.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Aerial video shows Hurricane Michael's widespread destruction of Mexico Beach, Florida.
- "Her": A new song and music video against sexual misconduct and for believing the victims.
- Persian music: I have posted this song before, but this rendition is warm and heartfelt.
- A memorable rock-n-roll song, "I Saw Her Standing There," performed by the giants of rock-n-roll.
Cover image of Temple Grandin's 'Calling All Minds' (4) Book review: Grandin, Temple, Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Ann Richardson, Listening Library, 2018. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Mary Temple Grandin [1947-now], Professor of animal science at Colorado State University and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, has been featured in several films, including one bearing her name (2010), "In the Woods" (2012), and "Speciesism: The Movie" (2013).
In this book, Grandin aims to inspire young readers to put down their phones and to pick up scissors, glue, milk cartons, and other tools/materials to build some of the things she herself worked on as a kid, relating her own experiences and challenges as she tried the projects. Some two-dozen projects, grouped into five sections (paper, wood, levers/pulleys, objects that fly, and optical illusions) are presented, along with descriptions of underlying inventions and patents. An accompanying PDF file includes drawings, photos, and images of patent applications.
As a spokesperson for autism, Grandin has given many seminars and talks, including this 20-minute TED talk, entitled "The World Needs All Kinds of Minds." She is not the best speaker, because, as she indicates in her talk, she is a visual, detail-oriented thinker and has trouble dealing with abstractions. But, it's still good to hear her views and learn about her success story.

2018/10/10 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Analog design depicting Donald Trump The new Canadian flag since Trump's election Digital design depicting Donald Trump (1) Graphic designs: Analog and digital Donald Trump, and the new Canadian flag since his election.
(2) Time magazine's October 15, 2018, report "50 Genius Companies" is an excellent read. I was particularly intrigued by: 23andMe (Unlocking DNA for all); Agriprotein (Turning waste into feed); Apeel Sciences (Keeping fruit fresh); Impossible Foods (Artificial "meat"); Obvious (Algorithm-generated art)
(3) Panama City Beach, a town where my younger son lived for 3 years in the early 2010s, is torn to pieces by category-4 (almost 5) Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm ever to hit the Florida Panhandle. Unusually, the Hurricane was still category-3, way after moving inland to Georgia.
(4) Ranking of healthcare efficiency in world economies: Lighter shades of blue in this map are better. The US is unfortunately ranked very low. For the definition of efficiency and other details, see this Bloomberg report.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Dow Jones Industrial average fell 832 points today in third worst day by points ever.
- US sanctions: Iran sends 200 tons of medicine and med supplies to Iraq, amid severe domestic shortages.
- Women are sending thank-you postcards to Kavanaugh accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
- US resident and WaPo reporter Jamal Khashoggi goes missing after visiting the Saudi Consulte in Turkey.
- Persian music: Female vocalist is accompanied by violin and traditional Iranian instruments. [Video]
- Persian music: A modern arrangement of the oldie "Bordi az Yaadam" (performed by Hooshmand Aghili).
- World Music Series: Today's noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl featured Los Catanes Del Norte. [Video]
(6) "UCSB Reads" book for 2019: The just-announced selection is The Best We Could Do, an illustrated memoir, taking the form of a comic book, by Thi Bui.
(7) Cartoon from 2017: [Donald Trump, facing a bunch of people holding signs that say Trump is wrong on Iran, torture, Russia, the border wall, ... ] Trump: "Lying media!" Aide: "That's your cabinet ... " [Image]
(8) Musical response to the "It's a Scary Time for Boys": It has been a scary time for girls and women throughout the recorded history, so, my fellow men could surely bear the pressure, if there is indeed any pressure, for a few weeks or months! [Video]
(9) Final thought for the day: If sexual assault is such a horrible act that mere allegation of it "ruins a man's life," can you imagine what the act itself does to a woman's life?

2018/10/09 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Ignoring the fact that investigative methods and science can resolve the so-called 'he said, she said' cases Cartoon: Trump attacks Brett Kavanaugh's accusers Sweeping sexual assault allegations under the rug (1) On sexual assault: [Left] Ignoring the fact that investigative methods and science can resolve the so-called 'he said, she said' cases. [Center] Trump viciously attacks Brett Kavanaugh's accusers. [Right] Sweeping sexual assault allegations under the rug.
(2) India's Supreme Court rules that a biometric database containing fingerprints and eye scans of more than 1 billion citizens does not violate the right to privacy. [Source: Time magazine, issue of October 8, 2018]
(3) Quote of the day: "A book is not improved when it becomes a movie. A book is something that stimulates creativity in the reader. The movie—you have everything already." ~ Paulo Coelho, in Time magazine interview
(4) Call to action: The Kavanaugh confirmation hearing has energized the right, which is spending lavishly to defeat Senator Heidi Heitkamp, as punishment for her "no" vote. Keep your eye on the prize: Vote, and contribute to the extent you can.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Trump agenda:   Ruin the Presidency. ✔   Ruin the Congress. ✔   Ruin the Supreme Court. ✔
- Hurricane Michael headed toward Panama City on the Florida Panhandle: The Carolinas also threatened.
- Couple arrested in Mexico with baby stroller full of human body parts may have killed up to 20 women.
- A call-to-action essay by Suzy Evans, lawyer, historian, author, and literary agent.
- For once, Trump apologizes: But it's to Brett Kavanaugh, on behalf of America!
- Hot off the press: New updated edition of Trump's The Art of the Deal. Cover cartoon]
- With their roles in transportation diminishing, donkeys are bred for their medicinally potent milk. [Video]
- Trevor Noah's monologue about Trump's claim that the most powerful men on Earth are being victimized.
(5) [Joke of the day] Sarah: "Whenever one door closes another one opens!" Jill: "That's nice, but until you fix it, I'm not buying this car."
(7) Tweeters are doing harm to the Persian language: Granted, there are certain technical terms that do not have (good or widely-accepted) Persian equivalents, but tweets such as this one are ridiculous!
(8) Iranian politics mirrors what's happening in the US: A female member of Iran's parliament has received death threats for voting "yes" on a bill that aims to curtail corruption, money-laundering, and support for domestic and international terrorism. [Persian tweet]
(9) Final thought for the day: A post claimed that Persian is the only language in which you can form a long sentence using verbs only. This 19-verb sentence isn't properly formed, but still fun to contemplate!

2018/10/08 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Lady Liberty laments over what happened to Lady Justice Photo: Stalling of women's rights progress The best defense is teaching girls to read (1) Women's rights: [Left] Lady Liberty laments over what happened to Lady Justice. [Center] Stalling of women's rights progress. [Right] The best defense is for girls to be educated about their rights.
(2) The cover image of a book about Iran piqued my interest: Will try to locate it. [The Iranian Metaphysicals: Explorations in Science, Islam, and the Uncanny, by Alireza Doostdar, Princeton University Press, 2018]
(3) ACM issues an updated edition of its Code of Ethics: All professional societies expect ethical behavior from their members and formalize these expectations in a Code. ACM's current Code consists of a preamble and the following four sections, followed by case studies.   1. General Ethical Principles   2. Professional Responsibilities   3. Professional Leadership Principles   4. Compliance with the Code
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Twenty (17 birthday-partying friends, the driver, and 2 pedestrians) killed in upstate NY limo crash.
- Teen girl executed in Iran, after killing her abusive husband, whose brother allegedly raped her.
- The misogynists ruling Saudi Arabia for 86 years and slated to rule for another decade, at least. [Chart]
- Why not repurpose Columbus day to celebrate immigrants? After all, Columbus was an immigrant.
- Preying on the elderly: Don't ever lose sight of your purse or wallet while shopping. [Video]
- Embroidering the beauty of nature. [Vido]
- Quote of the day: "Trump has changed 'We the People' to 'Me the President'." ~ Colin Powell
(5) Here are two problems I have assigned as parts of the first homework for my graduate-level course on fault-tolerant computing. They are useful to trigger some thinking about the moral responsibilities of an engineer. These are newly designed problems that will eventually appear in my textbook on the topic.
1.24. Risks of infrastructure deterioration: In September 2018, gas explosions rocked a vast area in northeastern Massachusetts, leading to the loss of one life, many injuries, and destruction of property. Investigations revealed that just before the explosions, pipe pressure was 12 times higher than the safe limit. Using Internet sources, write a one-page report on this incident, focusing on how/why pressure monitors, automatic shut-off mechanisms, and human oversight failed to prevent the disaster.
2.26. Risks of trusting the physics of sensors: Many safety-critical systems collect data from sensors for use in making their decisions. Read the paper [Fu18] and write a one-page summary for it, focusing on safety challenges that are unique to sensors (as opposed to general risks associated with trusting technology).
[Fu18] Fu, K. and W. Xu, "Risks of Trusting the Physics of Sensors," CACM, Vol. 61, No. 2, pp. 20-23, 2018.
(6) An elaborate academic sting operation: Three professors set out to expose shady publication practices by writing bogus "papers" and having them published in top academic journals. They point their criticism at liberal arts, but the problem is much more widespread. There have been multiple successful attempts to publish nonsensical science/engineering "papers," including a few that were generated by computer programs. What causes these hoaxes to pass through the peer review of the publication process is the publish-or-perish culture in academia that leads researchers to spend as little time as possible on service activities, such as refereeing papers. The little refereeing talent available is spread very thin by the proliferation of academic journals to accommodate the flood of papers, many of which have average readership in the single digits.

2018/10/07 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon of Lady Justice under assault Cover image of a book about hidden violence against women Self-portrait of a Yezidi woman who escaped her ISIS captors. (1) Violence against women dominated the news over the past week (Kavanaugh hearing, Nobel Peace Prize): [Left] Lady Justice under assault. [Center] Cover image of a book about hidden violence against women. [Right] Self-portrait of a Yazidi woman who escaped her ISIS captors.
(2) Nobel Prize: Normally, the Literature Prize would have been announced by now, with the Economics Prize coming next week. But the Nobel Committee was forced to postpone the Literature Prize, in view of sexual assault allegations by 18 women against French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, 72, husband of Swedish Academy member Katarina Frostenson. He has already been sentenced to 2 years on one count of rape.
(3) Oil industry analyst warns that the global oil market is on a razor's edge: Strict enforcement of sanctions, or a regional crisis disrupting the supply, can easily lead to prices exceeding $100. If this happens, affected countries will blame the US for its bull-in-the-china-shop approach to economic policy.
(4) Brett Kavanaugh confirmed for lifetime Supreme Court appointment by 50-48 Senate vote: Will he be asking the other SCOTUS members upon arrival whether they like beer?
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Indonesia quake/tsunami death toll surpasses 1700, with more than 5000 still missing.
- Patrick Leahy explains the rush to confirm Kavanaugh, before additional damning evidence came out.
- Facebook fights overly-broad search warrants against anti-Trump activists, with no criminal allegation.
- An alert suburban bank teller exposes what would have been one of the biggest bank heists ever.
- [Humor] The US Supreme Court is planning a beer party to welcome Kavanaugh.
- Lady Gaga talks to Steven Colbert about "A Star Is Born" and surviving sexual assault. [Video]
- Anti-Semitism: Northern Virginia Jewish community center spray-painted with swastikas. [Photo]
- The life and work of a super-talented Iranian musician in exile: Sepideh Raissadat. [Video]
(6) Iran doesn't even let Baha'i corpses rest in peace: For 40 years, Baha'is have faced hostility and arbitrary arrests and imprisonments. Even their cemeteries are destroyed/bulldozed as a matter of course.
(7) Jonah Goldberg's lecture: Tonight, I attended an interesting and important lecture by Jonah Goldberg, Senior Editor of National Review and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who talked about his acclaimed and best-selling book, Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy. Speaking at UCSB's Campbell Hall, Goldberg warned (not that we need the warning, as we witness first-hand what is happening in the US) that, as the United States and other democracies surrender to populism, nationalism, and other forms of tribalism, they are in danger of losing the will to defend the values and institutions that sustain freedom and prosperity. According to Goldberg, a staunch conservative, who takes pains to explain that conservatism and the Republican Party are not the same thing, our Constitution and the values it espouses put us at the peak of a mountain and from that peak, every path leads downward. Democracy must be nurtured and taught in order to survive, as every baby is born with tribalism instincts pre-wired in his/her brain. There are a lot of other important points from the lecture that I could write about, but it would take me many pages. Do go hear him, or read his book, if you get a chance.

2018/10/06 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine cover image for its October 8, 2018, issue (1) With Time magazine's cover of the October 15, 2018, issue featuring the words of Dr. Blasey Ford going viral on the Internet (see my blog post of yesterday), the equally important October 8 cover got lost in the shuffle. It stresses the need to update the US Constitution to make women's rights explicit, rather than subject to interpretation.
(2) Nobel Peace Prize: Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad win the 2018 Prize for fighting sexual violence. Quoting from The Guardian about Dr. Mukwege: "With violence against women resurgent and the US president fueling misogyny, this man is an inspiration ... an extraordinary man who has risked everything to heal, cherish and honor women. It is a call to men across the planet to do the same." Murad relates how she reclaimed her life, after 7 members of her family were murdered and she became a sex slave to ISIS captors. Here is part of Murad's book, The Last Girl, with a foreword by Amal Clooney, who characterizes ISIS as "evil on an industrial scale." Hats off to this young woman, whose bravery stands in stark contrast to the cowardice of many of our politicians condoning acts and policies they know to be morally wrong, because they fear losing the next election!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Too late? The American Bar Association reconsiders its opinion of Kavanaugh. [Letter]
- A new cell-phone app calls 911 automatically, if an accident knocks you out, away from help.
- [Humor] Denietol: A new med for men that helps erase unpleasant memories of sexual misconduct.
- Shadow-dancing to a decades-old song, which I remember from an Indian movie I saw in Iran. [Video]
- Riddle of the day: What gets dirtier after it is washed?
- Artists in Isfahan produce art from many different materials: Here is one who creates metallic carpets.
(4) Misogynistic headline: "Susan Collins Consents" is how The Wall Street Journal reports the latest development in the Brett Kavanaugh Senate confirmation saga.
(5) The out-of-touch old white men: Senate Judiciary Committee chair Grassley believes that his committee's workload is too heavy for women! These dinosaurs must be voted out and replaced with non-extinct species.
(6) The fig-leaf investigation: FBI's investigation of allegations against Kavanaugh was nothing but a fig leaf for the Republicans to cover themselves, but, with the very limited list of individuals the FBI was allowed to contact, the fig leaf turned out to be too small. They are still pretty much exposed!

2018/10/05 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The impact of sexual assault survivors' words: Time magazine cover image (1) Time magazine's October 15, 2018, cover image depicts the impact of sexual assault suvivors' words.
(2) Food waste: Some 40% of the food produced in the US is thrown out. Reducing this waste would take us a long way toward solving many of our problems, including hunger and pollution. [Video]
(3) Another mysterious death: A Russian Deputy Attorney General, thought to have directed attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, involved in the infamous Trump-Tower meeting and other plots abroad on behalf of Russia's government, has died in a helicopter crash.
(4) Is Thomas Edison in hell or in heaven? This question is addressed by an Iranian cleric. According to his reading of Islam, non-Muslims cannot go to heaven, but their suffering in hell may be reduced, in part or totally, by a record of good deeds! [Video]
(5) California man, 90, implicated in the death of his stepdaughter based on her Fitbit data: The fitness device showed a significant spike in heart rate at 3:20 PM, September 8, before rapidly slowing. Surveillance videos showed that the stepfather's car was parked in his stepdaughter's driveway from 3:12 PM to at least 3:33 PM.
(6) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Adding insult to injury, Trump claims that women sharing stories of sexual assault are paid professionals.
- A new character for Sesame Street: Time monster! [Cartoon]
- Life advice memes: Positivism and balance.
- Presidential alert: Donald Trump is still president. This is not a test. Action required! [Image]
(7) The president who embarrasses us on a daily basis: Trump makes a crowd laugh at Brett Kavanaugh's accuser. That crowd is no less embarrassing, although I did spot a few women among them who were not amused. Meanwhile, the Republicans seem to be competing in going lower. A Republican official has released a fake photo of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as a teenager, implying that she was too ugly to be the target of a sexual assault! This would have been abhorrent even if the photo weren't fake.
(8) Nobel Prize: Half of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Arthur Ashkin, with the other half going to Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland, only the third woman to win the award and the first one in more than half a century. The researchers' work on lasers was praised in the Prize citation.
(9) Space elevator may become a reality: NASA has determined the concept of replacing rockets with an elevator to be sound, and both Japan and China have projects already underway. By reducing the cost of putting satellites in orbit more than 100-fold, the project should pay for itself and then some.
[Following is a Facebook post of mine from August 29, 2012, with more technical details.]
The idea of a space elevator, a cabin that goes up and down a super-strong ribbon made of lightweight material and held vertically in space because much of its weight is on the other side of Earth's geostationary orbit, was proposed several years ago (I first encountered it in 2010). It is still a pie-in-the-sky idea, but its developers are proposing to build a smaller version on the Moon, to be used for dropping items there or retrieving them for transport back to Earth. This project will be simpler, given the Moon's much weaker gravitational pull. Still, nearly $1B will be needed to implement it. [Wikipedia article about the space elevator, Earth version]

2018/10/04 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Protest sign: Women say 'Kava-nope'! Dina Katabi, winner of the 2017 ACM Prize in Computing Statue of World War II sex slaves for Japanese soldiers installed in San Francisco (1) Pictorial news stories: [Left] Protest sign: Women say "Kava-nope"! [Center] The would-be medical doctor who became an accomplished computer scientist: Dina Katabi, winner of the 2017 ACM Prize in Computing for her creative contributions to wireless systems, ranked very high in Syria's university entrance exam and went to medical school, as expected of high achievers. She left her chosen field after a year, because she wanted to do math and engineering. (Source: CACM interview, October 2018) [Right] Japan's city of Osaka has cut its "sister city" ties with San Francisco over a statue of World War II sex slaves for Japanese soldiers.
(2) Science news: Half of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Frances Arnold (Cal Tech), for work in changing how chemists produce new enzymes, and the other half to Gregory Winter (MRC Lab, Cambridge, England) and George Smith (U. Missouri), for their research that has led to new pharmaceuticals and cancer treatments.
(3) Women's rights advocate Maryam Azad was arrested at Tehran's International Airport, joining three other activists (Hoda Amid, Najmeh Vahedi, Rezvaneh Mohammadi) arrested earlier this month.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Former US Navy sailor arrested for sending toxic ricin seeds to Donald Trump and Pentagon.
- Experimental set-up shows the feasibility of direct brain-to-brain communication among three people.
- Khomeini apologist, who wrote a book in support of the fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie, lives freely in London.
- Iran installs surveillance cameras to detect women who attend soccer matches disguised as men.
- A few cartoons that need no caption. [Images]
- Brilliant accordion (Aydar Gaynullin) and violin (Darius Krapikas) conversation in Monti's Czardas.
(5) Brett Kavanaugh's Senate confirmation needs 50 votes: Here is the current outlook.
For: 48 R's; Against: 48 D's; Leaning for: Collins (R), Flake (R); Unknown: Manchin (D), Murkowski (R)
(6) Last night's IEEE meeting at Rusty's Pizza: After a 30-minute mixer with pizza and beer, Professor Benjamin Mazin of UCSB gave a talk entitled "Searching for Exosolar Earthlike Planets—Latest Developments." He began by describing the design of DARKNESS camera used to detect tiny amounts of light and minor light variations (it is installed at Palomar Observatory) and concluded by discussing methods of detecting planets outside our solar system and determining whether they can support life as we know it. Distant planets are too tiny and too faint to be observed directly, so their presence and properties are usually deduced from how they affect their stars (e.g., oscillations affecting the light spectrum, or blocking, akin to solar eclipse). [Photos]

Cover image for James L. Gelvin's 'The New Middle East' 2018/10/03 (Wednesday): Book review: Gelvin, James L., The New Middle East: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford, 2018.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
[Note: There are multiple books with the same title as this one.]
Written by historian and author of a related volume, The Arab Uprising: What Everyone Needs to Know, this book could have been titled "The Contemporary History of the Middle East." Here, "The Middle East" is defined as spanning from Morocco on the west to Iran on the east, a region more dependent on oil revenues that any other part of the world and comprising about half a billion people. The term "The New Middle East" was coined by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and later elaborated upon in the journal Foreign Affairs by policy analyst Richard N. Haass [p. 21], when the old, relatively-peaceful ME (from the US viewpoint) came crashing down with the invasion of Iraq.
Gelvin begins by discussing the region's past, 1945-2011, which he entitles "Before the Deluge" (ch. 1, pp. 1-23) and an overview of the Arab Uprisings (ch. 2, pp. 24-49). He then discusses the Syria embroglio (ch. 3, pp. 50-81), the rise and decline of ISIS (ch. 4, pp. 82-111), patrons, proxies, and freelancers (ch. 5, pp. 112-136), and human security in the New Middle East (ch. 6, pp. 137-167). There is no separate concluding section to wrap up the discussions and to point to what might be expected in the future, perhaps because any predictions for such a volatile region may turn out to be embarrassingly inaccurate.
According to Gelvin, five elements were responsible for popular uprisings, which had the dual goals of demanding rights/democracy and pressing for better economic conditions, in the Arab world. Bear in mind, though, that none of these elements was a key cause and, even with all of them in place, the uprisings weren't inevitable. Overall, the uprisings, with the possible exception of Tunisia's, were less than successful in bringing about major structural changes. Nowhere was this failure more pronounced than in Syria, owing to it having no Tahrir-Square-like epicenter and the army not standing down [p. 83].
1. Neo-liberalism: Having taken roots in the Arab world in the 1970s, neo-liberalism and its attendant economic reforms allowed Arab countries to get connected to and benefit from international markets and sources of credit.
2. Human rights revolution: Developing in tandem with neo-liberalism since the 1970s, the human rights and democratic rights movements were used by both liberal and regressive opponents of the region's regimes to weaken them.
3. Brittleness of Arab regimes: The region's regimes were caught between recommended austerity measures on the one hand and increased demand for government services on the other. Around the same time, governments in Western countries began to fall due to popular anger. The Arab world lacked such a safety valve, as people could not oust governments (politicians), so they focused on overthrowing the regime ("nizam").
4. Demography: An increase in the number of young people under 30 and the attendant rise in unemployment and under-employment, led to economic hardships across the region.
5. Global rise in food prices: Widespread droughts around the world and changes in agricultural priorities and patterns intensified the economic hardships that had arisen from demography and rampant unemployment. These factors affected each of the region's countries in a different way. Monarchies, by and large, escaped serious consequences, in part due to using their oil wealth to buy out their opponents. However, the survival of Morocco's monarchy is a puzzle, given that the country lacks oil.
Talking about the Middle East as a whole is challenging, because the countries in the region are not homogeneous. Arab women have the least political participation in the world, yet Israeli, Turkish, and, to some extent, Iranian women are relatively active.
I will list some of the key features of the New Middle East in the next few paragraphs.
* Refugee crises [pp. 76-77]: The Syrian civil war has intensified sectarian conflicts in all countries of the region. Syrian refugees have doubled Lebanon's unemployment rate to 20% and have caused major economic hardships in Turkey and Jordan. Many Iraqi refugees who had settled in Syria were forced to seek refuge back in Iraq, hardly a safer place.
* US-Israel relations [p. 120]: The US has become wary of extending unconditional support to Israel. "Obama's administration was not the first to have abstained or supported UN resolutions critical of Israel ... George W. Bush's allowed 6 such resolutions to pass, George H. W. Bush's allowed 9, and Ronald Reagan's allowed 21."
* Human security [p. 137]: The term "security" often means the security of states and governments. The term "human security" has been coined to shift the focus to those factors that make populations unsafe. The Middle East today is the second most urbanized region in the world (after Latin America). Megapolises with very limited human services form a major cause of human insecurity.
* Water shortage and climate-change vulnerabilities [pp. 141-144]: Three Arab countries (Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait) are already below water poverty line, defined as being able to use 50 liters of water daily for drinking and personal hygiene. There is no general agreement on whether the recent temperature spikes in the region are aberrations or omens of a new normal.
* Poverty and health problems [p. 157]: Whereas income poverty prevails in the region, despite its vast natural resources, human poverty, which includes also quality of life and the sense of well-being, is even worse. The Middle East is the second most obese region in the world, after the South Pacific.
Let me end my review by quoting the book's final paragraph [p. 167]: "The breadth and depth of the protests and uprisings that have engulfed the Arab world, Iran, Turkey, and Israel indicate that agitation for good governance is not a transient or localized phenomenon in the Middle East. As such, the history of the past thirty years cannot but disturb the sleep of politicians, kings, and dictators throughout the region."

2018/10/02 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
NASA's logo This photo was taken for the departmental brochure (no Web page then!) shortly after my arrival at UCSB in 1988 Today is IEEE Day, 134 years after the founding of one of its predecessor societies in Philadelphia (1) Anniversaries galore: NASA was born 60 years ago. On October 2, 1884, members of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, a predecessor society of today's Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE = "Eye-triple-E") gathered for the first time, in Philadelphia, to exchange technical ideas. Coincidentally, this 134th IEEE Day coincides with my celebration of arriving in California exactly 30 years ago (on October 2, 1988, when my sons were ~4 and 2.5 and my daughter was –5.5) to begin work as Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UCSB. I still love the place and work. The center photo was taken for the departmental brochure (no Web page then!) shortly after my arrival at UCSB.
[P.S.: My official work anniversary is actually July 1, but visa delays led to the late arrival. A kind colleague gave the first two lectures of the computer architecture course I was scheduled to teach during fall 1988.]
(2) Shades of Charlottesville: Despite calling Dr. Blasey Ford's testimony credible and characterizing her as a fine woman right after she testified, Trump goes on the attack during a campaign rally and shreds her to pieces. It seems that once again Trump (under pressure) made a statement he didn't really believe in and is now contradicting. Look at the women sitting behind him, though. Most of them don't seem to be thrilled with Trump's character assassination.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings gave us a glimpse of the bullying culture of privileged white men.
- eMedicare launched: On the heels of issuing new cards, Medicare moves to further embrace technology.
- A memorial at UCSB, with messages honoring the victims of the 2014 Isla Vista mass shooting.
- Dogs' intelligence is over-rated: They are not as smart as other animals.
- Invasive plant species may not be all bad: They actually help avert climate change.
- Newly discovered dwarf planet strengthens evidence for distant world.
(4) "Unfractured": This is the title of a documentary, screened early this afternoon at UCSB. The film is about the anti-fracking movement in New York and the role of one woman, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, in it. The effort led to NY's governor banning fracking in the state. The screening was followed by a discussion with the film's director, Chanda Chevannes (Seated on the right in one of these photos). Thanking the director, I shared with her something I learned from the film: That activism/protest isn't mindless sign-carrying and chanting, but involves much preparation. For example, the NY protesters would divide themselves into those who were prepared to be arrested and those who couldn't afford to. Those who expected to be taken away in handcuffs, needed to plan ahead for various commitments and their families' lives while they were gone. When law enforcement arrived on the scene, the second group quietly moved away, while the first group continued to block the gate or the road. Ms. Chevannes added that the protesters in her film underwent special training to ensure their protests remained nonviolent. The fact that the arrests were orderly and respectful drew laughter from the audience at a screening in Brazil, where the police behaves in a much different way!

2018/10/01 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Pablo Picasso's bust Before the age of drones, this is how photographers got their wide shots (1939) Sculpture: Stack of books (1) Art and its production process: [Left] Pablo Picasso's bust. [Center] Before the age of drones, this is how photographers got their wide shots (1939). (Source: Westways, 10/2018) [Right] Sculpture: Stack of books.
(2) The 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo, who discovered different ways to unleash a patient's immune system against cancer.
(3) Sexual assault, and society's reaction to it, are now front and center in our national discourse. Let's not waste this opportunity to learn and act. [Dr. Nayereh Tohidi's Facebook post]
(4) Areas affected by the twin disasters (earthquake and tsunami) in Indonesia: People are still being dug out and the death toll of 850 is expected to rise significantly. [Map]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Scientists develop Martian soil to allow studies of Mars on Earth: And at $20/kg, it isn't dirt-cheap!
- Black waitress at Applebee's was left this note on a napkin in lieu of tip.
- Singer Charles Aznavour, who provided the soundtrack of the lives of people in my generation, dead at 94.
- Self-driving cars: Honda's AI confuses major Japanese ramen chain's logo with do-not-enter sign.
- Regardless of your circumstances, a smile can brighten your day. [Photo]
- Quote: "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." ~ Lewis B. Smedes
(6) Predators are everywhere: UCSB Chemistry Department researcher, 51-year-old Hongjun Zhou, arrested on charges of child sexual abuse.
(7) Seeing a friend after 45 years: This evening, I had dinner at Darband Grill in Thousand Oaks with half of the host family (the other half being her late husband) I had while attending UCLA in the early 1970s. It's impossible to cover 45 years of life stories over one dinner, so we'll get together again to continue the chat.

2018/09/30 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Fashion at Longchamp Racing, Paris, 1908
Lindsay Wagner in publicity photo for Pablo Picasso with Brigitte Bardot, 1956 (1) History in pictures: [Left] Fashion at Longchamp Racing, Paris, 1908. [Center] Lindsay Wagner in publicity photo for "The Bionic Woman," London, 1976. [Right] Pablo Picasso with Brigitte Bardot, 1956.
(2) Deflection tactics: We learned over the past couple of days that Yale is full of misogynists, sexual predators, and morally bankrupt men, so "I got into Yale" is definitely not a defense against alleged sexual misconduct.
(3) Exposing unethical business practices: I have been receiving many e-mail messages from Trello (I have no idea what it is or what it does). The e-mails have no link to allow the recipient to unsubscribe.
(4) Cartoon caption of the day: He was drunk ... so he wasn't responsible for his behavior.
She was drunk ... so she's responsible for putting herself in that situation.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Death toll for Indonesia tsunami, caused by 7.5-magnitude quake, approaches 1000.
- Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have fallen in love: Kim written multiple love letters to Trump!
- The term "glacial speed" may be obsolete, because glaciers are no longer moving at glacial speed!
- A visual puzzle that has gone viral: Can you spot the pencil in this image?
- I have no idea where this is, but I find it enchanting. [Photo]
- Persian poetry: A humorous poem about rising prices having elevated the social status of tomatoes.
- This evening's sunset at Camino Real Marketplace in Goleta. [Photos]
- Quote: "Our ultimate goal is to make as many people as sad as possible when we die." ~ Anonymous
(6) The FAA Reauthorization Bill, in final stages of passage by the US Senate, will set minimum width and spacing standards for airline seats. The bill also has other provisions to help passengers and improve safety.
(7) Final thought for the day: "Ninety-nine percent of us are good-hearted people who respect others and want peace. The other one percent rule the world and tell us we're at war." ~ Lee Camp

2018/09/29 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. The Afghan girl, who became famous by being featured on the cover of 'National Geographic,' grew into a rugged woman An innovative fountain
Little Iranian girl at fig harvest time (1) Feminine beauty: [Left] The Afghan girl, who was featured on the cover of National Geographic, grew into a rugged woman. [Center] An innovative fountain. [Right] Little Iranian girl at fig harvest time.
(2) Dr. Blasey Ford used her training in psychology to answer a question: "I don't expect that P. J. and Leland would remember this evening. It was a very unremarkable party. It was not one of their more notorious parties. Nothing remarkable happened to them that evening. They were downstairs. Mr. Judge [the friend alleged to be with her and Kavanaugh during the assault] is a different story. I would expect that he would remember."
[In fact, Mark Judge may also not remember. Many men who routinely harass or assault women, have no recollection of their individual victims. To them, the women and the behavior are unremarkable.]
(3) Donald Trump: The #MeToo movement is very dangerous for powerful men! Me: Only for powerful men who are dangerous to their underlings!
(4) Republicans in a ditch continue digging: "Women are going to hold the Republicans accountable for this grotesque spectacle at the ballot box. We do not have to accept a situation in which sexual violence is dismissed, and the perpetrators could be promoted."
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Magnitude-7.5 quake and ensuing tsunami devastate Indonesia.
- Shaming the victim: Fox News' Kevin Jackson reportedly fired for this gem and other offensive tweets.
- The cult residing in Albania, plotting regime change in Iran, and endearing itself to Washington.
- This is the image the world is getting from our country: A bunch of old, angry, white men. [Meme]
- Feminism: The radical notion that women are people, not properties. [Meme]
- Borowitz report (humor): Obama saddened that Kavanaugh did not blame him at any point.
- Senator Kamala Harris' statement at the US Senate hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
- Tonight's SNL season premier opened with a spoof of Kavanaugh hearings, with Matt Damon as the judge.
(6) #MeToo moves into a new phase: Sexual assault reports have tripled since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's Senate testimony. Some very young victims indicate that their families told them to keep their mouths shut.
(7) Israelis more worried about Trump's UN speech than the rest of the world: This seems counter-intuitive at first, but their country is highly dependent on US prestige and world leadership, so any erosion in the latter makes them nervous.
(8) Store closings, left and right, in our area: Goleta K-Mart is all but gone, with 80+% of the store already liquidated. It will soon be replaced by a Target store, opening in our area for the first time. Orchard Supply Hardware isn't far behind, with the liquidation discount already at 30-60%. [Photos]
(9) Final thought for the day: Tehran University's College of Engineering anthem was performed tonight at the annual gathering of Fanni graduates in Los Angeles, an event that I could not attend. [Sheet music]

2018/09/27 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Basic Human D's & C: A new supplement for men who cannot interact with women without sexualizing them! Sign of the times: Hell hath no fury like that of 157 million women scorned Iran's President Rouhani claims that the world won't find a better friend than Iran (1) Some interesting memes: [Left] Basic Human D's & C: A new supplement for men who cannot interact with women without sexualizing them! [Center] Sign of the times: Hell hath no fury like that of 157 million women scorned. [Right] Iran's President Rouhani claims that the world won't find a better friend than Iran: The signs in the photo read "Death to America," "Death to Europe," "Death to Arab Leaders," "Death to Human Rights," etc.
(2) Kavanaugh hearing: Dr. Blasey Ford won over many members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including some Republicans (at least they said they were impressed). Kavanaugh's opening statement seemed sincere and compelling. But then, he went on the attack, screamed at the questioners, waxed political about Democrats conspiring against him, and, in one case, when asked about his drinking problem, asked back about the questioner's drinking habits. Definite no-nos!
(3) These three on-the-fence Republican Senators (Flake, Collins, Murkowski), plus one Democrat worried about his re-election in a red state, will decide Kavanaugh's fate: It's really sad that being re-elected has become more important than doing the right thing.
(4) Persian poetry: Morteza Keyvan Hashemi recites his poem in which he says, for example, that he fears ignorant religiosity, not God himself, and that he prefers knowledgeable foes to uninformed friends.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Senator Lindsey Graham's ignorant tweet about sexual assault victims and a response to it.
- Six Baha'i environmental activists arrested in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz on unknown charges.
- Exchange value for US dollar surpasses 16,000 tomans, as Iranian currency continues its nosedive.
- All this trouble, just to save a puppy: Hats off to, and Hope restored in, humanity. [Video]
- Humor: The opposite of reserved parking! [Photo]
- Cartoon of the day: "The world is laughing at us, folks." [Image]
- Persian music: Jalal Taj Esfahani's "Beh Esfahan Ro" ("Go to Esfahan").
- Traditional Persian music, in a refreshingly new way: Ali Ghamsari performs his own composition on tar.
(6) Iranian official Ataollah Mohajerani, who wrote a book in 1989 defending Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa calling for the murder of author Salman Rushdi, now lives in London.
(7) How Putin projects power through his wealthy allies: This is the theme of an article in Time magazine (October 1, 2018). These oligarchs are in turn connected to wealthy and powerful individuals around the world.
(8) Scientists observe matter (equivalent to Earth's mass) falling (in about a day) at roughly 1/3 the speed of light into a black hole a billion light years away.
(9) Iran's beautiful nature: Boojan County near Neishapour, a city in the Iranian province of Khorasan.

2018/09/26 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for Rose McGowan's 'Brave' (1) Book review: McGowan, Rose, Brave, unabridged audiobook on 6 CDs, read by the author, Harper Audio, 2018.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is a combination memoir/manifesto. McGowan, one of the strongest voices in the #MeToo movement, had the courage to escape two cults (in her own words). One was a religious cult, which brainwashed and abused her as a child. The other was the cult of Hollywood and the entertainment industry that sexualizes women and uses them for the pleasure of powerful men. Having escaped the first cult, McGowan had the skills and tools to escape the second, and to help bring down some of the said powerful men, who took advantage of their veneer of supposedly championing and mentoring new talent.
McGowan writes at length about the objectification of women and setting of unreasonable and misguided standards of beauty to keep them under control. At one point, as part of her defying what was expected of her, McGowan cut her hair really short, as she viewed a woman's hair one of the tools of her subjugation. She never mentions the name of her abuser, Harvey Weinstein, in the book, calling him "monster" instead. In the course of her fights against the entertainment industry's bigwigs, McGowan was harassed by lawyers and former Israeli spies (hired through a security firm by Weinstein to dig up dirt on her).
After the Weinstein abuse episode, McGowan thought she had found love with a man pretending to be her savior, the so-called knight in shining armor. But he proved to be a control freak and physical/emotional abuser. At one point, he subjected McGowan to a lie-detector test, because he suspected her of having an affair. According to McGowan, one trick used by powerful men is to deliberately destabilize women and then use their condition to sow doubts about their believability.
McGowan emerged from these brutal tests triumphant and respected, as she dragged down her powerful abuser. The book was eye-opening for me, even though I already supported the #MeToo movement and identified with feminism more generally.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Why does the press even cover a "news conference" during which not one question is properly answered?
- Actress Alyssa Milano shares her poem, "A Survivor's Prayer," dedicated to survivors of sexual assault.
- Trump wants to ban the production of cocoa (chocolate source): He meant to say coca (cocaine source)!
- Today on UCSB West Campus bluffs: A brisk day, with perfect weather for walking and enjoying nature.
(3) The floodgates have opened: A third woman accuser of Judge Brett Kavanaugh has come forward. This is the usual pattern. Additional victims are emboldened by those who go first. And they don't want to leave the first accuser out in the cold if they have info to support them. Kavanaugh's third accuser sounds even more credible than the first two. She describes a repetitive group behavior that will likely be corroborated, given the large number of participants and witnesses.
(4) Alternative fact: Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, says laughter at the General Assembly wasn't a diss but a sign of respect for Trump's 'honesty'? Honesty? Really?
(5) Round-table discussion: Striving for Human Rights in Iran (Skirball Cultural Center, Wed. 10/10/2018, 7:00 PM). I will try my best to attend this event, which will be a challenge, given that I teach 4-5 PM on 10/10. The previous event with the same title was quite interesting and informative.

2018/09/25 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
T-shirt inscription reads: 'Make lies wrong again' Marathon cheering sign: 'Run like Donald Trump is behind you and Justin Trudeau is just ahead' US Senators and Congressional Representatives should start listening to Bob Dylan, before it's too late (1) Some interesting images, dissing politicians: [Left] T-shirt inscription reads: "Make lies wrong again." [Center] Marathon cheering sign: "Run like Donald Trump is behind you and Justin Trudeau is just ahead." [Right] US Senators and Congressional Representatives should start listening to Bob Dylan, before it's too late.
(2) Iran's President Rouhani "is an absolutely lovely man": Whether Trump is being facetious or he really admires Rouhani (like Putin and NK's Kim), he is making up the "requests" part. Rouhani requesting to meet with Trump would be a kiss of death for his government, whose cabinet ministers are facing a wave of impeachments by conservatives in Iran's parliament. He has reportedly asked for a pause in impeachment proceedings, offering to make several changes of his own upon returning from the UN meeting in New York. Iran's Supreme Leader has banned meetings with the US, and no one would dare over-ride his instructions. In the past, Iranian reps attending UN meetings have even carefully planned their bathroom visits to avoid chance encounters with Americans, which would spell doom for them back home.
(3) The President, who faulted previous administrations for making us the laughingstock of the world, was laughed at this morning at the UN, when he said he had accomplished more than any US President!
(4) Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo look at Trump with admiration during his UN speech, while a man (from a "shithole country"?) covers his face. [Photo]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A detailed description and analysis of how Russia helped swing the 2016 presidential election for Trump.
- Our Liar-in-Chief (unintentionally) makes world leaders at UN's General Assembly laugh! [Image]
- France's President Macron delivers a forceful rebuttal to Trump.
- Bill Cosby sentenced to 3-10 years in prison for 2004 rape case, meaning that he will serve at least 3 years.
- Everything you need to know about footnotes, including the fact that they were first used in the year 1347.
- Some common English words that have come from Arabic, and the paths they have taken to grt here.
- Little girl's rousing rendition of the US National Anthem at an LA Galaxy soccer match.
(6) #MeToo has made us take the first step: Listen to women. Now, we have to take additional steps and do something beyond listening. Bill Cosby's conviction and sentencing is just a start. Much more is needed.
(7) College soccer: UCSB men's soccer team played Gonzaga, a traditionally strong soccer school, tonight at Harder Stadium: By the end of minute 32, the Gauchos led 2-0, having scored on a PK and off a corner kick. Gonzaga scored 5 minutes from the end of the match to make the final score 2-1. UCSB's record is now 6-3-0, including an impressive 3-1 win over arch-rival UCLA. [Images]

2018/09/24 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
This poignant message warns against following anti-vaxers and other science deniers Fame and success aren't the same thing Warning: Reading can seriously damage your ignorance (1) Memes: [Left] This poignant message warns against following anti-vaxers and other science deniers. [Center] Fame and success aren't the same thing. [Right] Reading can seriously damage your ignorance.
(2) Tammie Jo Shults, the woman who became a hero when she safely landed a severely damaged Southwest plane, was once told girls don't become pilots.
(3) The similarities between Thomas and Kavanaugh confirmation hearings are undeniable: But there are also key differences, in that there is no race factor at play for Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford's accusation comes after our society's supposed enlightenment by the #MeToo movement. Clips of Anita Hill's testimony being replayed to draw comparisons is quite instructive, because they reveal the horrible treatment she received. [Photos]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Republicans' definition of due process includes making up your mind before hearing the accuser. [Image]
- Republicans' inverted logic: Everyone having guns makes us safer, but everyone having healthcare kills us all.
- Emphasis on STEM shouldn't be at the expense of marginalizing general education and humanities.
- How knowing more than one language enhances your brain's health and delays the onset of Alzheimer's.
- "It was a long time ago—Are you sure you haven't confused us with someone who cares?" [Cartoon]
- Teacher: "Who started the American Civil War?" Student: "Fox News and MSNBC." [Cartoon]
- Where Kurds live: Dark green areas are at least 3/4 Kurdish; medium green, ~1/3 or more. [Map]
- Masoud Darvish sings 3 Persian songs: "Sooreh Ehsas"; "Hamisheh Asheghetam"; "Raghs-e Baran"
(5) This week at UCSB: The week began with move-in and will continue with pre-instructional activities, until the start of fall-quarter classes on Thursday 9/27. [Photo]
(6) Call for inquiry into arbitrary detentions in Iran: A group of Iranian academics and human rights advocates have begun a petition drive to thank the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for investigating the imprisonment of Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang in Iran and concluding that the charges against him are totally baseless. This signable on-line petition, written in both English and Persian, includes links to various information sources and related articles.

2018/09/23 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Condolences to the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz for its losses in terror attack Calligraphic rendering of a Persian adage in Nastaliq script, rendered with a ball-point pen, instead of a calligraphy pen Persian calligraphy: Playing on the word 'eshgh' ('love') (1) Calligraphic art: [Left] Condolences to the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz for its losses in terror attack. [Center] Reflection: There are times when you catch yourself doing what you have scorned others for doing; confronting yourself is so scary! (The Persian version shown is written beautifully in Nastaliq script, using a ball-point pen, rather than a calligraphy pen; artist unknown) [Right] Playing on the word "eshgh" ("love").
(2) Effects of the #MeToo movement: We have a long way to go before women are viewed as full human beings with the same rights as everyone else, but the very fact that men in positions of power have begun apologizing for sexual misconduct or for not taking complaints seriously (as is the case for Santa Barbara City College President Anthony Beene) is cause for hope. Even if many of the apologies are insincere, the very fact that they feel compelled to offer them in order to survive is a step forward.
(3) Quote of the day: "What boy hasn't done this?" ~ Some women apologists for Brett Kavanaugh [It seems that the #MeToo movement has a lot of work to do educating women about their rights!]
(4) This statement, which I have translated from Persian, has been attributed to Mhatma Gandhi (I searched for its original from, but could not find anything similar on-line. Perhaps it is a misattribution, but I like the sentiment): The problem is that through a woman's torn clothes, people see her immodesty, not her poverty.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- To be happier, ban small-talk from your conversations: Here are 12 questions to ask instead.
- What kind of reasoning leads to making both abortion and contraception less accessible?
- Persian music: Violinist extraordinaire Bijan Mortazavi performs live in Los Angeles.
- Iranian folk music: Performed by Maliheh Moradi (vocals) and Shahab Azinmehr (setar). [Video]
- Girls are often ridiculed for the way they run, throw, jump, and so on: If you agree, watch this video.
- Statues come alive to stun and delight the spectators. [The music may be muted due to copyright issues]
(6) Persian fusion music: "Zamzameh" ("Whisper"), a piece based on a traditional Khorasani (northeastern Iran) melody, played by Masoud Shaari (setar), Sina Shaari (oud), and Darshan Anand (Indian drums).
(7) Mitch McConnell calls Trump to tell him that his comments about Dr. Blasey Ford, the professor who has accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, were unhelpful: Notice that he said "unhelpful," not "wrong"!
(8) Wheelchair-bound Iranian veteran asked a friend to take a photo of him during the Ahvaz, Iran, military parade: It turned out to be his last photo, as he died in the terror attack that ensued. [Photo]

2018/09/22 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Fall has arrived: Happy new school year to students, teachers, and others in academia! Birds, ocean, and sunset create a magnificent sight to behold Sumptuous Iranian spread, with fish and rice as the main dish (1) Some seasonal images: [Left] Fall has arrived: A very happy new school year to students, teachers, and others in academia! [Center] Birds, ocean, and sunset create a magnificent sight to behold. [Right] Sumptuous Iranian spread, with fish and rice as the main dish.
(2) US Supreme Court nominee: Judge Brett Kavanaugh's case gets more complicated following reports that two Yale law professors groomed good-looking female students to clerk for him.
(3) Tone-deaf Republican politician jokes about sexual assault: Did you hear the latest news about Ruth Bader Ginsburg coming out that she was groped by Abraham Lincoln? They just don't get it. Period.
(4) Gender pay gap (80 cents for women vs. $1 for men) extends to other areas: In fact, the gap is much worse in stock options, where women get 47 cents to male coworkers' dollar.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Terrorist attack at a military parade in Iran's southern city of Ahvaz, leaves at least 24 adults/kids dead.
- Congressman discounts the assault allegation against Kavanaugh as "an attempt that didn't go anywhere."
- Space achievement: Japan landed two rovers on an asteroid, and they have begun sending back pictures.
- Look at these high-heel shoes carefully to see what they are made of. [Images]
- The amazing nature: Animals pursuing food, on their own or with human help. [Video]
- Solo violin performance at what appears to be a public park in Iran. [Video]
- Iranians enjoying themselves with song and dance on a hiking trail, away from the eyes of anti-fun officials.
(6) In an op-ed, President Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis, writes about being sexually assaulted by a music industry executive, an incident she kept to herself for decades.
(7) [Please consider signing this petition; link at the bottom of this Persian news story.]
The petition reads, in part: We the undersigned, a group of Iranian academics and human rights activists residing outside the country, wish to thank the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for investigating the imprisonment of Mr. Xiyue Wang in Iran and concluding that there is "no legal basis for his arrest and detention." ... Mr. Wang is a hostage and the purpose of Iran's theocrats is either to swap him for their convicted agents detained in the United States or collect money for his release. ...
(8) Possible math breakthrough: Michael Atiyah says he will provide "a simple proof" of the 160-year-old Riemann hypothesis in a talk at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum in Germany.
(9) Another Trump surrogate bites the dust: Jason Miller, former Trump aide and apologist on CNN panels, always seemed creepy to me. Miller has been ousted by CNN amid accusations that include giving a mistress an abortion-inducing drug without her knowledge.

2018/09/21 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for the audiobook 'Russian Roulette' (1) Book review: Isikoff, Michael and David Corn, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Peter Ganim, Twelve, 2018.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book presents a detailed, well-researched account, backed by documents and testimonials, of Trump's cozy relationship with several dozen Russians and mob figures. He, his family members, and close associates were intimately involved in commercial real-estate developments in Russia, including multiple attempts at building Trump towers and hotels, with the deals falling through only because Russia wanted majority control of the projects. The Trump organization was also involved in real-estate transactions in the US by Russian nationals, many of them suspected of money-laundering and other criminal activities.
Every time he has been questioned about these shady figures, Trump has feigned ignorance of their criminal backgrounds and, in most cases, has denied that he knew them beyond casual contacts.
The book offers a detailed account of FBI's efforts to brief DNC officials about Russian infiltration of their servers, going as far as providing URLs of sites in Russia with which DNC servers were communicating, warnings that were, for the most part, dismissed until it was too late. Russian hackers had conducted extensive phishing campaigns that, among other things, netted them passwords and other credentials of high-level DNC operatives, which allowed them to access e-mail communications as well as current and archived documents.
In terms of research and documentation, this is one of the better books among many titles that have been published about Trump, his presidential campaign, and his presidency. I have not yet read Bob Woodward's just-published book, Fear: Trump in the White House.
(2) Iran of youre: Print-media ad from half a century ago, telling Iranians that all they need to travel comfortably around the world is a passport and a Saderat Bank revolving-account checkbook.
(3) Pants on fire: Trump and his lawyer deny that he admitted he fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation, despite millions having seen the edited version of the on-camera NBC interview (where he plainly said so) and a longer version of the interview being available on YouTube.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Additional accusers emerge for California doctor and his girlfriend, who drugged and raped many women.
- NC river breaches dam and connects to a power plant's coal-ash reservoir, risking serious contamination.
- Two cartoons about today's biggest news story: Confirmation hearings of Judge Kavanaugh.
- Proposed Antarctica wall could prevent glaciers from melting and avert catastrophic sea-level rise.
- Science saves the day: Elephant-tusk DNA testing exposes three massive ivory-smuggling cartels.
- Persian music: Hoor Orchestra performs Saeed-Nia Kowsari's "Ey Zabaan-e Farsi" (Oh Persian Language).
(5) A plan for survival: In an editorial published by the journal Science, leading biologists propose setting aside half of Earth's surface to allow wildlife to thrive.
(6) Final thought for this International Peace Day (September 21): The world spends about $250 annually for every human being on Earth to wage war.

2018/09/20 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: 'My thoughts and prayers have been answered!' If Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue (he would deny it, of course)! Cartoon: 'Not now, honey. Daddy's arguing with strangers about sexual orientation of puppets.' (1) Political cartoons of the day: [Left] "My thoughts and prayers have been answered!" (see the first item under one-liners below) [Center] If Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue (he'd deny it, of course)! [Right] "Not now, honey. Daddy's arguing with strangers about sexual orientation of puppets." (From: The New Yorker)
(2) Stats for Santa Barbara's 27th Annual Day of Caring (September 15, 2018) published: More than 1000 volunteers showed up at over 50 SB County sites, providing landscaping, painting, repair, clean-up, and other services, with estimated value of around $300,000.
(3) Censorship in Iran keeps getting weirder and weirder: The judiciary arrests two theater veterans and bans a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
(4) Comprehensive study done under Iran's President Rouhani concludes that the current system, including lavish spending on "other Muslims," is unsustainable.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Workplace shooting at Rite Aid distribution center leaves multiple people dead and several others injured.
- Fear stops many women from speaking up, making sexual assault the most under-reported crime.
- The more things change, the more they stay the same: Misogyny in the #MeToo age. [Tweet]
- With many of his aides arrested, it's only a matter of time before Ahmadinejad himself is nabbed.
- How playing an instrument and listening to music vastly improve our cognitive abilities.
- Studying patterns in music: Songs that stay with us and dominate our brains are highly repetitive.
- Arabic fusion music: The French band Orange Blossom performs "Habibi" ("My Love").
- Persian music: Violinist extraordinaire Bijan Mortazavi performs "Hemaaseh" ("Epic") in his 1994 concert.
(6) Be curious, not judgmental: An essay by a psychology professor about the difference between being judgmental ("He's lazy!") and curious ("What's holding him back?") in dealing with students and others. "If a person's behavior doesn't make sense to you, it is because you are missing a part of their context."
(7) The Kavanaugh hearing is a big test for the Republicans: Not just how they treat Dr. Ford, but the manner of showing to suburban white women, who helped elect Trump, that they've heard the #MeToo message.
(8) Convergence of computer science and biology: Animal species are nothing but collections of pre-loaded algorithms that evolve to maximize survival chances.
(9) Engineering failure: Pipe pressure was 12 times higher than safe limit just before the Boston gas explosions. Where were the pressure monitors? Automatic shut-off mechanisms? Human oversight?

2018/09/19 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Some much-needed perspective on the role/place of us humans in nature! How did a Latino immigrant suddenly become a white racist? No president has done what Trump has done: Absolutely correct! (1) Three interesting and timely memes: [Left] Some much-needed perspective on the role/place of us humans in nature! [Center] How did a Latino immigrant suddenly become a white racist? [Right] No president has done what Trump has done: Absolutely correct!
(2) Oh, the Irony: North Carolina, a highly vulnerable US state to global warming because of its low-lying coastal areas, passed a law in 2012 to ban policies based on predictions of catastrophically-rising sea levels.
(3) Don't keep loads of your children's art: Creating artwork is good. Sharing them with parents and being acknowledged is also good. But keeping boxes of them around the house is a waste of time, because, over time, the works will lose freshness and seem less impressive. I kind of buy this advice; many may disagree.
(4) Fusion music to get you off your chair: Rachid Taha and Catherine Ringer perform "Ya Rayah" ("Oh Immigrant"). And here's the English translation of the lyrics.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Those who constantly cry 'Fake News,' including the Trumps, are actually the worst spreaders of fakery!
- Aftermath of Hurricane Florence: Train derails in North Carolina after flooding washes away the tracks.
- This isn't a river: It's North Carolina's Interstate 40. Hurricane Florence's death toll reaches 35. [Photo]
- Persian music: Dialog between oud (Sina Shaari), setar (Masoud Shaari), and percussion (Pejman Haddadi).
- Cartoon of the day: Iranian women outsmart the regime every step of the way! [Image]
- "I hope all that's good looks beautiful to you." ~ Ehsan Yarshater, writing in a young girl's autograph book
(6) Joke of the day: A thief came to my house at night, and, when he found nothing worth taking, he woke me up and said: "Hey, man! I feel so sorry for you. Here's 100 bucks."
(7) Fusion Jazzy music: Barcelona Gipsy Klezmer Orchestra performs "Djelem Dejelem" ("I Went, I Went").
[See Wikipedia for the history of this Romani anthem.]
(8) Math puzzle: A runner enters an east-west tunnel from its east end and runs one quarter of its length, when she notices a car moving at 40 km/hr approaching the tunnel's east end. If she runs at her maximum speed in either direction, she would get to the end of the tunnel exactly at the same time as the car. What is the athlete's top speed?
(9) [Final post for the day] Persian music: Oud, tar, and tonbak are featured in this wonderful piece by three talented young women: Padideh Ahrarnejad (tar), Ava Ayoubi (oud), and Nazanin Pedarsani (tonbak).

2018/09/17 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for 'Dear Fahrenheit 451' (1) Book review: Spence, Annie, Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks, unabridged audiobook on 5 CDs, read by Stephanie Spicer, Dreamscape Media, 2017.
[My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Imagine a book as the love interest of a librarian. What would s/he write in a love letter to his/her favorite book? What might one see in a break-up note, when the book has reached the end of its shelf life and no one seems to be interested in borrowing it?
The letters in this book are generally witty, funny, and compassionate, some more so than others. At times, the letters/notes are quite short, taking the form of book introductions or recommendations. You may disagree with some of the author's assessments, but her fairly short book is still an easy and fun read.
(2) Nuclear power plants in the Carolinas still in danger: Since Japan's Fukushima disaster, operators have shored up defenses, but will the protections be enough?
(3) Actor Harrison Ford (Han Solo, Indiana Jones) urges us to reject politicians who don't believe in science or, worse, pretend they don't believe in science out of self-interest.
(4) As we are occupied by Hurricane Florence here in the US, Typhoon Mangkhut, said to be the strongest-ever storm in the world, is wreaking havoc in China and, most recently, Hong Kong. And here is a video showing wind-caused damage in Japan's storm of last week.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hurricane Florence: Death toll rises. Hundreds still trapped. The worst still to come in some areas. [Photos]
- Trump's tweet about Mexican Independence Day generates predictable backlash. [Image]
- Someone please start counting: Trump has issued his first truthful tweet! [Tweet image]
- Donald Trump Jr. mocks Brett Kavanaugh's sexual assault accuser: Apple does not fall far from the tree!
- Heavenly apple orchard (location unknown): I never knew that such small trees can bear this much fruit!
- Persian music: Masterful violin and tonbak duo by Reza Shayesteh and Nazanin Pedar-Sani.
(6) Morning huddle at the White House: "Staffers, try to contain him and keep your hands in his face. Aides, cut off the outlets. Advisers, watch out for that quick release. And, everyone, stay alert for fumbles." [Cartoon from: The New Yorker]
(7) Bob Woodward's book, Fear, is a best-seller, but it didn't cause even a ripple in Washington: Why? In part because what Woodward describes isn't surprising to anyone who has been reading the news of late, and partly because our reverence for the presidency has sharply declined after JFK (the womanizer), Nixon (the foul-mouthed crook), Clinton ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman"), and GWB (need I explain?).

2018/09/16 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. One of the first bicycles entering Iran in the Qajar era
Kurdish women of Kermanshah gather by the stream flowing next to Taq-e Bostan, a relic from the 4th-century AD Sassanid Empire, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site (early 20th century) Boys with shaven heads as part of the treatment for scalp infections (June 13, 1951) (1) Iran's history in pictures: [Left] One of the first bicycles entering Iran in the Qajar era. [Center] Kurdish women of Kermanshah gather by the stream flowing next to Taq-e Bostan, a relic from the 4th-century AD Sassanid Empire, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site (early 20th century). [Right] Boys with shaven heads as part of the treatment for scalp infections (June 13, 1951).
(2) This cleric says that Iran's conditions will not improve: Those holding power have gone from penniless to super-rich and it's foolish to think that they will start doing the right thing after four decades of being in power.
(3) Two very interesting quotes from the legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
On immigrants: "What the immigrant perspective means is you know at least two places very well, which means you can actually put two places in your head at the same time. That's what builds imagination."
On whether there is still a place for classical music in pop culture: "The percentage of calcium in our diet is probably 0.00001%—But tell me we don't need calcium."
(4) Quote of the day: "Insulin was discovered in 1920, and I like that at the 100-year mark we may be done injecting insulin." ~ Douglas Melton, Harvard Stem Cell Institute [Quoted in Time magazine]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Meme of the day: Maybe justice is indeed blind: Or, perhaps, it is also deaf, heartless, and greedy!
- Donald Trump Jr. takes a stab at humor re Obama's mistake of referring to 57 states and lives to regret it.
- Mourners burn 72 doves alive to commemorate the slaughter of Imam Hussein and his army in Karbala.
- Persian music: "Majnoon" by Hoor Orch. (composed by Anooshiravan Rohani, arranged by Bijan Mortazavi.
- Persian music: A wonderful instrumental piece (violin, piano, tonbak) by Hoor Orchestra.
- Some choreography ideas for anyone wanting to perform the Persian "Baba Karam" dance!
- Archaeological discoveries in Egypt: Recently, a new Sphinx and other artifacts were found in a temple.
(6) Persian music: Salar Aghili sings "Raghs-e Guisoo," accompanied by Mehrnavazan Orchestra (composed by Fereydoon Hafezi, lyrics by Mir Naser Sharifi; a song made famous by Delkash).
(7) Persian music: Naghmeh Hafezi (piano) and Peyman Lohrasbi (violin) perform "Raghs-e Guisoo" (the song detailed in my previous post) in an intimate setting. [Anooshiravan Rohani speaks at the end.]

2018/09/15 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Chart, plotting quality of news media (from fabricated stories at the bottom to highly accurate fact reporting at the top) vs. partisan bias (extreme liberal on the left to extreme conservative on the right) (1) Informative chart, plotting quality of news media (from fabricated stories at the bottom to highly accurate fact reporting at the top) vs. partisan bias (extreme liberal on the left to extreme conservative on the right).
(2) Physics puzzle: There are two straight iron bars that look and feel identical. One is a magnet and the other isn't. How can you tell which is which by just touching them to each other? No other action is allowed.
(3) Terahertz clocks on the way: PC clock rates have stalled around 10 GHz and further improvement does not seem possible with current technology. German researchers believe that using graphene in electronics may allow orders-of-magnitude increase in clock rates.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hurricane Florence's death toll, now at 11, will likely rise as rainwater and storm surge subside.
- Is our rotting infrastructure catching up with us? Here's a map of gas fires/explosions, in Andover, MA.
- Worked this morning on cleaning up Isla Vista as my "Day of Caring" project. [Photos]
- The turnout was impressive, consisting almost exclusively of students. A cause of hope for our society!
- RIP VW Beetle [1945-2019]: The model will be discontinued at age 74.
- Looking forward to reading In Pieces, actress Sally Field's honest, brave, and highly personal memoir.
- Interesting essay by a woman who filed for divorce three months after her wedding day.
- Essentials for a summer afternoon: Colorful flower bouquet and a yummy-looking fruit plate. [Photos]
(5) Some interesting/funny video clips for your enjoyment on this mid-September Saturday.
- Little girl, with magical voice and unbelievable poise, performs at a talent competition.
- Iranian music and dance from the Caspian shore region. [1-minute video]
- Practical demonstration of the management style of the Islamic Republic of Iran officials! [1-minute video]
- Humorous Persian poetry: Cleric recites an anti-regime piece at a poetry-reading session in Iran.
- Either Chinese toddlers receive financial training or, like Iran, there is a severe shortage of diapers in China!
- This magic routine, performed at "Britain's Got Talent," involves the quickest costume changes ever.
- And one last video: Man likes magic trick at first, but things don't go well later!?
(6) Persian poetry: In this poem, entitled "Assumption," Hooshang Ebtehaj (pen name H. E. Sayeh) tells us that people routinely make incorrect assumptions. And they are often sincere in their beliefs; they simply don't know or don't remember better. This, he said in one poetry session before reading the poem, explains inaccuracies in all autobiographies. Everyone writing an autobiography in Iran declares himself not responsible for the current mess, the left blaming the right and the right blaming the left.

2018/09/14 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for 'TransAtlantic' (1) Book review: McCann, Colum, TransAtlantic: A Novel, unabridged audiobook, read by Geraldine Hughes, Random House Audio, 2013.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The narrative in this novel begins with two aviators, Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown, setting out to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 1919, shortly after the end of World War I, flying from St. John's in Newfoundland to Ireland on a modified bomber. Two other Atlantic-crossers are prominently featured in the novel: Frederick Douglass, who goes on a lecture tour in the mid 1840s to promote his subversive autobiography, and Irish-American Senator George Mitchell, who travels to Belfast in 1998 to lead Northern Ireland's highly sensitive peace talks.
McCann introduces quite a few made-up characters alongside the real ones and weaves their fictional life stories, including parallels between them, with real personalities and events of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. The stories are tied together by a number of remarkable women, beginning with Lily Duggan, an Irish housemaid, who crossed paths with Frederick Douglass.
(2) Kurds' rights in Iran: The late Dr. Abdol Rahman Ghassemlou [1930-1989] said that the Kurds are no less Iranian than any other group of people in the country and will never accept the status of second-class citizens.
(3) Quote of the day: "There is rape because there are rapists, not because there are pretty girls." ~ Leni Lobredo, Philippines VP, responding to President Rodrigo Duterte's remark that rape will exist "as long as there are many beautiful women"
(4) Mass killing in China: Vehicle attack in Central China kills a dozen people and injures 44: The incident has been classified as a case of "revenge on society" rather than terrorism.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump presents "alternative facts": Hurricane Maria death toll was inflated by Democrats to hurt him!
- Planned Parenthood's new president, Dr. Leana Wen, is an immigrant who practices emergency medicine.
- Gunman, his wife, and 4 others dead in Bakersfield, California, shooting incident.
- Late Senator John McCain's family distraught over the use of his words in political attack ads.
- Architect introduces some excitement and variety into the design of heretofore boring bathroom stalls.
- The President prepares for Hurricane Florence. [Cartoon] [From: The New Yorker]
- Math puzzle: How can you obtain 6 by using only 0s and any number of math symbols?
- Persian music: A short audio clip of Marzieh singing "Guisoo," accompanied by a historic photo of her.
(6) Bob Woodward's Fear: Trump in the White House sets publishing records: It sells 3/4 million copies on its first day and already has 1.15 million hard copies in print.
(7) Wonderful 10-day weather forecast for the Santa Barbara/Goleta area: Sunny, highs in the 70s, lows around 60. Feeling for those affected by Hurricane Florence.
[Continued dry conditions, leading to high fire danger, is a different story here in California, though.]

2018/09/13 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos of the French citroen minimalist car model, marketed as 'Zhiaan' in Iran of the 1970s (1) Throwback Thursday: Some Iranian friends and acquaintances from my generation may have fond memories of this French Citroen minimalist car model that was marketed and became popular in Iran of the 1970s under the "Zhiaan" brand name.
(2) Women = Possessions: Whoever designed this misogynistic poster likely thought that it was very clever. The Persian message admonishes men who cover their cars to avoid dents and scratches, yet allow their wives and daughters on the streets, without proper head-to-toe covers. In similar signs, equally insulting to both sexes, women's hijabs are likened to candy-wrappers which keep flies and worms away from your sweets.
(3) Dire economic climate in Iran is endured with a rather surprising sense of humor: In this poetic satire, Majid Morseli (sp?) begs his baby son not to pee, given the shortage and high prices of diapers.
(4) [This item is from mid-July, but I just learned about it] Anti-Semitism in action: Miami man arrested with gasoline canisters, just in the nick of time before he could set fire to a condominium complex (which he had already sprinkled with gasoline) to "kill all the f-ing Jews" inside.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California Governor Jerry Brown's Climate Summit embraced by leaders worldwide, but not by Washington.
- US News & World Report's latest ranking places UCSB 5th among America's public universities; 30th overall.
- Apple Computer introduces three new iPhone models: Xr, Xs, Xs Max.
- Under the hashtag #TheCensor_And_I, Iran's artists share their encounters with absurd censorship rules.
- Eagerly awaiting "A Star Is Born": Bradley Cooper directing/singing and Lady Gaga in first starring role.
- Persian music: A silly song, which I don't quite understand, but find funny nonetheless!
- For my Persian-speaking readers: You'd appreciate this video if you have ever misunderstood song lyrics!
- Funny animals: Here's what happens when you don't appreciate good deeds!
(6) Follow the money: A complex web of financial transactions among some of the planners and participants of the infamous Trump-Tower meeting between the Trump camp and Russians moved money from Russia and Switzerland to the British Virgin Islands, Bangkok, and a small office park in NJ.
(7) Scientists grow "cerebral organoids" from stem cells: Nicknamed "mini-brains," the collections of 1 million or so neurons resemble different regions of the human brain. This research field, which was born five years ago, is still a long way from mimicking the full functionality of the human brain. After 100 days, the self-organizing mini-brains resemble a portion of the pre-natal brain in the second trimester of pregnancy.
(8) Final thought for the day [real news story]: A group of DC residents complained to city authorities that the owner of Trump International Hotel fails the "good character" test required of anyone who wants to sell liquor.

2018/09/12 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image for 'Trump Survival Guide' (1) Book review: Stone, Gene, The Trump Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know about Living Through What You Hoped Would Never Happen, unabridged audiobook on 4 CDs, read by Danny Campbell, HarperAudio, 2017. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
It seems that I cannot resist any book with "Trump" in its title! The tales are already getting old, as one author after another tells us about the den of dysfunction that is the Trump White House. According to Bob Woodward's just-released book, Trump is given the illusion that he is a powerful leader, going around, dictating actions and issuing orders, while the so-called "adults in the room" tone down outrageous policies and walk back the more misguided pronouncements, with or without his knowledge. Clearly, Trump is dangerous for our country, even in this muted form, given his direct Twitter channel for spreading misinformation and hatred.
The difference with this book, by the author of The Bush Survival Bible, is that it also provides practical strategies for ordinary citizens to cope with the crisis and to move from anger/despair to activism. Stone suggests that concrete action must supplement marches and social-media protests, and he provides names of organizations, people, Web sites, and other resources one can use to effect action. This fairly short book is well worth reading for those who are inclined to act but don't know where to start.
(2) Florence dangers explained: Hurricane Florence is dangerous, not primarily because of strong winds but due to vast storm surges it will create and loads of rain it is expected to dump on the Carolinas, as it stalls on land. Meanwhile, the northern Atlantic Ocean is spinning two other named hurricanes—Isaac and Helene. In the Pacific, tropical storm Olivia is on track to hit Hawaii. Welcome to the hurricane season!
(3) Wildfires: We know how to make wildfires easier to put out and less devastating, but the needed process of clearing the underbrush and controlled burns requires spending money we don't have.
(4) On its release day, Bob Woodward's Fear was already Amazon's 5th best-selling title of 2018: This article explains what the book is about and who might have provided the info it reports.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Carolinians warned: Even if you have ridden out storms before, be mindful that Florence is different!
- EU may sanction Hungary: PM Viktor Orban argues that he has an electoral mandate to roll back democracy.
- Republicans propose new tax cuts, paid for by another $2 trillion increase in the deficit.
- Iran's Revolutionary Guards attack Kurdish forces based in Iraq with less-than-perfect missiles.
- The US men's soccer team beat Mexico 1-0 in a friendly match, scoring after a Mexican player was ejected.
- Quote of the day: "The cure for anything is salt water—sweat, tears or the sea." ~ Isak Dinesen
(6) Republican Senator Susan Collins, a potential "no" vote on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation, harassed with obscene phone calls and shipments of wire hangers to her office.
(7) Break time: Feeling very productive at Starbucks, sitting outdoors on a 70-degree day (same forecast, as far as the eye can see) and working on the Persian version of an article I have already completed in English.

2018/09/11 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Jewish blessing on a silver bowl from Iran (ca. 1918) The historic arch that was the gateway to Shiraz, Iran
Published around 116 years ago in 'Adab' newspaper, this cartoon is claimed by some to be Iran's oldest (1) Iran's history in pictures: [Left] Jewish blessing on a silver bowl from Iran (ca. 1918): "Blessed are you Lord, our God, King of the world, Creator of the fruit of the vine." [Center] The arch at the center-left of this photo is Darvaazeh Shiraz. We used to drive through the historic gateway to enter Shiraz, arriving from Persepolis. Now, the structure is just a tourist attraction, with a multi-lane highway next to it accommodating the vastly increased traffic. [Right] Published around 116 years ago in Adab newspaper, this cartoon is claimed by some to be Iran's oldest. It depicts the difference between Westerners, who help each other in climbing the ladder of success, versus Easterners, who kick/drag each other down.
(2) We remember September 11, 2001: A concrete and steel structure at the Flight 93 Pennsylvania crash site has been dedicated for 9/11's 17th anniversary. It features wind chimes and is named "Tower of Voices."
(3) Voice of America program (from 2015) talks to, and shows samples of music by, Iranian Kurd singer Nasser Razzazi: He discusses his own style, as well as varieties and influences on Kurdish music in general. He maintains that Kurdish music is the only thing that has kept the Kurdish language alive. Starting at the 22:20 mark of the video, Razzazi discusses a popular Kurdish song about Norooz, how it was born in Iraq, and how the Shah's secret police forced Iranian performers to change parts of the lyrics. [30-minute video] Here is an older 27-minute BBC conversation with Nasser Razzazi.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The full phone conversation between Donald Trump and Bob Woodward. [11-minute audio file]
- Bob Woodward's first interview on his new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, to be released today.
- Trump's notebook sketch: Early idea of the wall, to be built by USA and paid for by Mexico. [Bill Mahr]
- Digital Life Design Conf.: As the new Jewish year rolls in, Israelis are pessimistic about peace prospects.
- Try the "language" dish at this eatery: Persian "zabaan" is translated to "language," instead of "tongue"!
- Turning the Sahara Desert into a wind/solar farm has the side benefit of bringing vegetation back to it.
- Quote of the day: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." ~ African proverb
(5) The Notorious RBG: "I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks." ~ Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking on behalf of women
[I was reminded of this statement while reading the book Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II; look for my review soon.]
(6) Evacuations ordered: Hurricane Florence turns into a category-4 storm, becoming perhaps the strongest storm to hit the US mainland northward of the South Carolina coast. Here is Florence's projected path.

2018/09/10 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to all who observe it! (1) Happy Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to all who observe it! The new Hebrew calendar year 5779 begins today. Jewish traditional celebration of Rosh Hashanah, starting on the night before, involves several fruits and vegetables. For example, apple dipped in honey represents sweetness and pomegranate signifies fruitfulness.
(2) A new store in town: Today, I finally ventured into the newly-opened Home Goods store in Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace and was impressed with the selection and prices.
(3) CBS Chief Les Moonves forced out, effective immediately, in light of sexual misconduct allegations: He is by far the highest-profile executive to be ousted since the #MeToo movement began.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump adviser Roger Stone urges the firing of Special Counsel Mueller and "insubordinate hillbilly" Sessions.
- Trump believes that his training makes him eminently qualified as a military leader! [Meme]
- Subway station at NYC's World Trade Center reopens in time for 9/11's 17th anniversary.
- Marziyeh Fariqi performs a Kurdish folk song.
- Vocal ensemble performs a Kurdish song, made famous by Marziyeh Fariqi.
- Teacher puts his safety on the line to demonstrate that predictions of scientific theories can be trusted.
Cover image for 'Furiously Happy' (5) Book review: Lawson, Jenny, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, unabridged audiobook on 7 CDs, read by the author, Macmillan Audio, 2015.
[My 2-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Lawson describes her lifelong battle with mental illness, using "funny" stories that are sometimes not very funny. There are genuinely funny, self-deprecating passages in the book, but the humor seems forced for the most part. For example, crass language is used in many passages in lieu of more refined presentation that would entail more work. I suspect that many other sufferers from mental illness would not like the way Lawson makes light of the challenges they face.
This book is a product of the way we Americans would like to be fed everything with a dose of laughter. Laughing is an essential need of a happy and balanced life, but not everything needs to be made fun of. This issue reminds me of a number of other "funny" acts that are not really funny. Take, for example, the case of Jimmy Kimmel's sidekick on TV, the Hispanic Guillermo, whose behavior, imperfect English, and thick accent are used to draw laughter from the audience.
Let me end on a positive note: Lawson suggests that we should celebrate our weirdness and find joy in whatever way we can, despite our limitations and dire circumstances. This is excellent advice for everyone.

2018/09/09 (Sunday): Book review: Mazarei, Merhnoosh, Mina's Revolution: A Novel, CreateSpace, 2015. [My 3-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Cover image for 'Mina's Revolution' Iranian women have been quite prolific over the past couple of decades, publishing novels and other works at an impressive rate. So, why have these authors, coming from a region of the world where giving women permission to drive a car is a big deal, have been so productive intellectually? The credit/blame goes to the Islamic Revolution, which took away much of their hard-earned rights in one fell swoop, while at the same time, giving them much to write about. Both non-working, traditional women (needing intellectual stimulation) and working women (in need of a hobby) have been toiling alongside full-time professional writers to produce a welcome collection of books that, though mostly fictional (in the historical fiction genre), address the challenges of a regressive society in a brave and refreshing style. And the cultural backwardness isn't only limited to the country they left in search of sociopolitical freedom and a better life for themselves and their families; it also exists in diaspora, where many Iranian men still do not view the women in their lives as equal.
After dedicating the book to the free-spirited women of Iran and America, her two countries, and quoting E. L. Doctorow ("The historian will tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like."), Mazarei begins her story in Los Angeles, on the day before 9/11, as Mina, a woman in her late 40s, barely makes it to her flight out of LAX for work-related meetings in New York City, where she also plans to see her daughter Shirin after eight years of estrangement; the real beginning, however, is in Borazjan, a city in southern Iran, sometime in 1964, when Mina was 11 or 12.
Description of some more or less routine happenings on the LA-NYC flight ends this segment, which is followed by another segment from late 1979, nine months after Iran's Islamic Revolution, when Mina arrived in the US, via London, as a pregnant twenty-something master's student, bringing along a few personal belongings, some Marzieh audio-tapes, and a National rice-cooker her mother had sent for her brother, whom Mina was visiting.
The pattern of jumping back and forth between dates and locations continues throughout the novel. The chapters are titled with a city and a person/place/event, such as "Tehran—University," "Los Anglels—Shirin," or "New York—Sept. 11th 2001." The narrative, which begins in Los Angeles on 9/10/2001, ends in New York City on 9/11/2001, 8:34 AM, as Mina runs toward WTC's North Tower, where she was to meet Shirin. The reader is left to speculate what will happen, when Flight 11 crashes into the North Tower's north face, between floors 93 and 99, shortly after 8:46 AM.
The "Revolution" of the book's title carries multiple meanings. There is the obvious Islamic Revolution, in which Mina played a role as a young political activist and which eventually drove her to leave her country of birth, and there are multiple inner "revolutions," as Mina tries to reconcile her idealism and big dreams with the challenges of material life and the realities of having to provide for a daughter, who later did not appreciate all of her mother's sacrifices.
As Mina prepares for the much-anticipated meeting with Shirin, her entire life passes before her eyes. She examines all of her key decisions, sacrifices made, and pleasures forfeited, more or less blaming herself for all that had gone wrong, including a marriage devoid of passion, the obsession of those around her with her cooking skills, the death of her idealism, unrealized dreams, and not experiencing an orgasm until later in life. She craved causes that were greater than herself and her immediate family, but which had died because of her own neglect and the impact of her vindictive, anti-intellectual husband. These details fill the pages between the LA beginning and the NYC ending.
The book had been on my to-read list for a while. After growing rather impatient with the story in the first one-third of the book, I was drawn back in when I got to the part where Mina's political activism and the affair with a self-absorbed revolutionary leader were described. Throughout, Mina self-criticizes her wrong decisions, avoidance of confrontation, not looking out for herself, and taming her rebellious self too much.
The novel is well-conceived, but it suffers from typical shortcomings of a self-published title. An expert editor might have advised the author to do away with a couple of superficially-introduced characters (such as Mohammad Ata, on p. 211, presumably one of the 9/11 hijackers) and provide more details about the men whom Mina fancied and the reasons she was drawn to them. These and a number of other editing/formatting problems are minor and do not detract much from the story's nice flow.

2018/09/08 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Louis-Francois Breguet's dial telegraph of 1842 aimed to simplify sending and receiving of telegrams, with no need for learning special codes Shades of the color white, which were left out from those posted over the last couple of days. This 2500-year-old stone tablet, which was stolen some 80 years ago, has been returned to Iran, thanks to a verdict from a Supreme Coutrt judge in NYC. (1) Some interesting images: [Left] Louis-Francois Breguet's dial telegraph of 1842 aimed to simplify sending and receiving of telegrams, with no need for learning special codes. The letter W was left out, as were diacritical marks, which are important in French. (Image credit: IEEE Spectrum, issue of September 2018) [Center] Shades of the color white, which were left out from those posted here over the last couple of days. [Right] This 2500-year-old stone tablet, which was stolen some 80 years ago, has been returned to Iran, thanks to a verdict from a Supreme Court judge in NYC.
(2) Human errors and tech: Many tech-related disasters are attributable fully or in part to human error. So, it is important to understand the reasons for human errors, some of which are due to poor tech design of human-machine interfaces. These 4 case studies are from Human Error, a 1990 book by James Reason (Cambridge University Press), one of the references I have used for my graduate-level course on fault-tolerant computing.
*Nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island     *Chemical plant at Bhopal, India
*Nuclear power plant at Chernobyl    *King's Cross Underground fire
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- How Republicans who hated candidate Trump went on to love him as President: Don Lemon has the tapes!
- Watergate attorney is certain Trump will be impeached, and Trump himself seems to dread impeachment.
- Unenthusiastic guy and a couple of others standing behind Trump are replaced by some pretty faces!
- Russia denies responsibility for the UK chemical assassination attempt, calling the evidence "fake news."
- Three young Kurdish political prisoners (Ramin Panahi, Zanyar Muradi, Loqman Murad) executed in Iran.
- Well, it was bound to happen: Teen falls to death while trying to take a selfie at Yosemite National Park.
- Kids say the darnest things: A very important phone conversation.
- Art from scrap: Making animal shapes by peeling a tangerine.
- History in pictures: NYC's Times Square, 1909.
- Juggling, with a twist (multiple ones, in fact): Four limbs, five balls, six-minute video.
- This 19-year-old domino chain-reaction master talks about her techniques for 15,000-piece creations.
- Signs of the time: Some unintentionally funny signs from Iran, for my Persian-speaking readers.
(4) Final thought for the day: Trump claims he fell asleep during former President Obama's speech. Sad! He missed an opportunity to discover what America is all about, and learn a few big words too.

2018/09/07 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
shades of black Shades of blue Shades of brown Shades of grey Shades of green Shades of orange Shades of pink Shades of red Shades of yellow (1) More color shades: Yesterday, I posted an image with names of 20 shades of purple. Out of curiosity, I searched for shades of a few other colors. Here are the results. The main color always appears on the top left.
(2) She received no credit for the discovery of pulsars, when a Nobel prize was awarded to her supervisor for the feat: Now, Bell Burnell has landed the biggest cash award ($3 million) for her contributions.
(3) Senator Kamala Harris asks US Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, if he could think of any law that regulates the male body. He couldn't.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- More than a dozen senior administration officials have denied being NYT's anonymous op-ed writer.
- Those who think they are controlling Trump, the so-called adults in the room, are strengthening his hand.
- Twitter users have a field day with Trump's claim that he will be remembered like Abraham Lincoln.
- Trump's "Anomenous" becomes the new "Covfefe"!
- NK hacker Park Jin Hyok charged with Sony Pictures hack and WannaCry global ransomware attack.
- This week's SB Independent reports on the celebration held on 8/25 to mark Miye Ota's 100th birthday.
- In a little over two weeks, UCSB will welcome the class of 2022 to its campus by the sea.
(5) A new job title in Iran: Arranging turbans in the nicest possible way. The fee charged depends on the design's complexity. [Persian tweet] [News story (in Persian): Unusual jobs that have sprung up in Iran]
(6) Final thought for the day: Richard Corsi, new dean of engineering at Portland State University, wants to make Portland a brilliant city, which he defines as the next step up from a smart city!

2018/09/06 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Flowers in different shades of purple growing in rocks Names of different shades of purple, for color-challenged people like me More flowers in purple shades (1) Shades of the color purple: [Left] Flowers in different shades of purple growing in rocks. [Center] Names of different shades of purple, for color-challenged people like me. [Right] More flowers in purple shades.
(2) Logical reasoning puzzle: In the following sequence, what is the next number?
4   12   23   69   80   ?         a. 91   b. 100   c. 191   d. 240
(3) CDC deals with emergency: Passengers and crew of an Emirate flight landing in NYC with more than 100 sick individuals have been quarantined. This document highlights Hajj risks from all communicable diseases, including a camel-borne respiratory disease.
(4) A couple of Persian tweets about Iranian female member of parliament Parvaneh Salahshoori: After a speech, male members insulted her, one asking whether her husband had read the speech.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Up to a year and a half ago, Bob Woodward was a great guy, but not after exposing Trump's failings.
- This is Trump's level of understanding of energy sources and their security: Truly scary!
- Melania Trump's back-to-school tweet asks whether students will strive to #BeBest, with no sense of irony!
- Loss of coral reefs will bring humanity a step closer to extinction: And the process has already begun.
- Cartoon of the day: Iranians face a severe shortage of baby diapers. [Image]
- A second cartoon, from The New Yorker: Disgruntled White House employees talk to Bob Woodward. [Image]
- Mashhad, Iran's second largest and holiest city, has become a destination for Iraqi sex tourists.
(6) Tiny machines inside human body may be able to harvest energy from biological cells: Scientists have already demonstrated that a capacitor can be charged by tapping into a frog egg, with the resulting charge used to power tiny, ultra-low-power electronics.
(7) For soccer enthusiasts: Having messed up big-time by not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, the US men's soccer team is back, trying to redeem itself. Here are their next two exhibition matches. Friday, 9/07, vs. Brazil, Fox Sports 1, 4:30 PM PDT; Tuesday, 9/11, vs. Mexico, ESPN, 5:30 PM PDT.
(8) American values ignored: The US has overlooked human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia for decades, and now that Canada is standing up to the Kingdom and getting punished for it economically, the US refuses to get involved, telling the two countries to work it out between themselves.
(9) Resistance inside the White House? Someone claiming to be a Trump administration insider has revealed, anonymously, that s/he is working to curb Trump's worst instincts and brands himself/herself as a hero. What would be heroic is to expose this president, as Bob Woodward has done, and to help remove him from office, not pick and choose from his decisions and orders via an extra-Constitutional process.

2018/09/05 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of Walter Isaacson's 'Leonardo da Vinci' (1) Book review: Isaacson, Walter, Leonardo da Vinci: The Secrets of History's Most Creative Genius, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Alfred Molina, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Isaacson has several very impressive biographies to his credit. They include biographical books on Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Kissinger. This book, like Isaacson's other biographical works, is based on meticulous research. Normally, writing about a 15th-century personality would be difficult, but da Vinci was a very helpful subject in this regard, because he kept detailed notebooks in which he recorded his ideas, sketches, designs, attempts at solving mathematical problems, records of his expenses, and almost everything else he did.
Da Vinci always carried a small notebook with him and sketched people in various poses, as he encountered them, because he felt he might forget important details. Later, he combined his acute eye for detail with a comprehensive study of the human body, muscles in particular, to produce more realistic paintings and sculptures. Isaacson estimates that about a quarter of da Vinci's notebooks have survived, but then points out that he had more information to work with here than provided by the entire collection of Steve Jobs' documents and e-mails!
Da Vinci was easily distracted and seldom finished projects which he started. For example, he spent much time on building an enormous statue of a man on horse, for which he devoted countless hours perfecting his knowledge of horses, their motions, and structure of their bones and muscles. He led the project to the stage of producing a single-piece casting mold that was larger than anything attempted earlier, but the statue was never built. Ditto for many paintings, bridges, buildings, weapons, and flying contraptions he dreamt up, all of which remained at the sketch or design stage.
Da Vinci was quite unique in the way he combined art and science. His wide-ranging passions that contributed to his unique position at the art-science boundary included theatrical production, architecture, anatomy, physiology, and engineering. His endless curiosity, careful observation, and playful imagination made him arguably the most creative genius in history.
In a way, da Vinci needed to be a creative genius in order to fit in. He was a misfit in many ways: illegitimate, a homosexual, a vegetarian, and left-handed, during a period of history when each of these attributes was enough for being sidelined or even expurgated. He is considered by many a true model of a Renaissance man.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Tech humor: Developer of iPhone's autocorrect feature owns up to his mistakes and apologizes to us!
- Visualizing Iran's currency devaluation, in very rough terms, by considering what 20K Tomans buys you.
- Illusion of control: The world is full of buttons that don't actually do anything, by design!
- Dutch company starts a new trend: A multi-level floating dairy farm near the center of Rotterdam.
- Sign of the times: "Waxing center" ad displayed in a prominent location on the UCSB Campus. [Photo]
- Dancing to the Azeri tune "Sani Deililar" ("They're Calling You"): A new social-media campaign/craze.
- "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." ~ Henry David Thoreau
(3) Are US Democrats shooting themselves in the foot? The trend is clear: Inexperienced outsiders are winning primary elections and ousting incumbent Democrats at state and national levels. In one sense, this is refreshing, because incumbent Democrats aren't any less guilty than Republicans in the current state of our politics and our government's sell-out to big business. Yet, I can't help but fear that these fresh faces will not have the know-how and support structure to defeat the well-funded Republican fear/smut machinery in November. But I do hope that my fear proves misguided.

2018/09/04 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Brazil's National Museum in Rio gutted by fire My first pomegranate purchase of the season Art Deco toaster, 1920s (1) Some newsworthy/interesting images: [Left] Brazil's National Museum gutted by fire: Unimaginable loss of treasure in the 200-year-old Rio institution. [Center] My first pomegranate purchase of the season: They arrive in Santa Barbara much later than in Los Angeles. [Right] Art Deco toaster, 1920s.
(2) This "equal earth projection" map has been developed by scientists to correct centuries of misrepresentation that depicts Europe & North America much larger, and Africa & South America much smaller, than their true sizes. On some current maps, Greenland appears nearly as large as Africa.
(3) Will Donald Trump's "friends" learn from the fate of punching-bag Jeff Sessions or do they think they are somehow special and utterly indispensable to The Don?
(4) New poll shows surging disapproval rating for Trump: But if we learned anything from 2016, it's to not let our participation slip when polls favor us.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Bob Woodward explains to Donald Trump how he tried to talk to him about his forthcoming book.
- Bob Woodward's forthcoming book reportedly tells of Mattis privately expressing his disdain for Trump.
- Soccer analogy: Trump wants Jeff Sessions to play goalie, but he wants to be a striker.
- Did you know that fighting is going on in Tripoli, Libya? Rival militias have caused 50 deaths just this week.
- Franklin family criticizes pastor for inappropriately political eulogy that included little about Aretha.
- Crooks in the White House: Kushner amassed $350K in unpaid fines while heading the family business.
- Cornell University's engineering class of 2022 contains equal numbers of men and women.
- iPad that rolls up to fit in your pocket: The final product will likely be more compact than this prototype.
- A beautiful Persian dance: Short 1-minute segment of a longer routine.
- "[A] dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher ... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot." ~ Douglas Adams
(6) Reza Khandan, Nasrin Sotoudeh's husband, who posted updates about the human rights activist's latest imprisonment, has been arrested in Iran.
(7) Google is trying to fix the URL mess: As they stand now, URLs are pretty much unreadable, because they contain much junk in the form of random-looking symbol strings. So, it's impossible to deduce which site you are connecting to and whether the site can be trusted. The long, unwieldy URLs won't even display in full on most browsers, particularly on mobile devices, creating deception opportunities for cyber-criminals. Fixing the mess has proven more difficult than initially thought, leading to the need for more effort.

2018/09/03 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photo of Iranologist Ehsan Yarshater (1) Ehsan Yarshater [1920-2018] passed away on September 1: An Ironologist and Editor of Encyclopedia Iranica, Yarshater was the founder and director of Center for Iranian Studies, and Hagop Kevorkian Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies at Columbia University. He was widely honored by awards and scholarships and by lecture series bearing his name. A major loss to Iran lovers and scholars worldwide. May he rest in peace!
[Web site] [Wikipedia entry] [Encyclopedia Iranica] [BBC tribute]
(2) An average of 10 ships have sunk per year over the past decade because of liquefaction, when solid cargo loaded directly onto the ships' holds turns into liquid.
(3) Modern Persian music: Ziba Shirazi's "Mard-e Man" ("My Man"). This rather romantic song is labeled by Amazon.com as "explicit"!
(4) "Hunting for Peru's Lost Civilizations": This 7-minute TED talk by Sarah Parcak is one of several talks on what is known as "space archaeology," the discovery of ancient sites using aerial and satellite imagery.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump celebrates Labor Day by criticizing the head of the country's largest federation of labor unions.
- Former President Obama's awe-inspiring eulogy at John McCain's memorial service in Washington, DC.
- Barack Obama and Meghan McCain slammed by Trump supporters for their John McCain eulogies.
- Mother of a vacationing family of five is the only survivor of a kayaking accident in Wisconsin.
- Billboard reminds Texans that the Lyin' Trump, who now supports Ted Cruz, has blasted him many times.
- California leads again: New law improves transparency through public access to internal police documents.
- US salaries of holders of 4-year college degrees: Starting, median, and different percentiles. [Article]
Happy Labor Day: Banner, with US flag (6) Not much to celebrate for labor: Today is Labor Day in the US. The first Labor Day Parade was held in New York City on September 5, 1882. On that day, 136 years ago, participants began from City Hall, marched past viewing stands at Union Square, and assembled in Wendel's Elm Park for a picnic, concert, and speeches. This year's celebration is marred by broad assaults on, and proposed curtailments of, labor rights, including restrictions on unionization, elimination or reduction of minimum wage, relaxation of safety regulations, stagnant wages, and arbitrary dismissals. Such assaults often come with misguided laws and misleading slogans, such as "Right to Work," which really means crushing labor unions to keep wages low.
(7) A final thought for this Labor Day: "Of life's two chief prizes, beauty and truth, I found the first in a loving heart and the second in a laborer's hand." ~ Khalil Gibran

2018/09/01 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Taking frozen long-johns off the washing line, 1940s Iran's pyramid: A cartoon by Mana Neyestani III Anna S. C. Blake, founder of a manual-training school bearing her name, that eventually became UCSB (1) Some interesting images: [Left] Taking frozen long-johns off the washing line, 1940s. [Center] Iran's pyramid: A cartoon by Mana Neyestani III. [Right] This photograph, shot through a frame with glass, is from a UCSB library exhibit that tells the story of how a "manual training" school, founded in 1892 by Anna S. C. Blake, a wealthy Bostonian who relocated to Santa Barbara, became known for its progressive and holistic educational programs and was eventually absorbed into the UC system to become UCSB.
(2) Not the enemy of the people: In a wonderfully-written and highly emotional essay, the wife of a journalist who died of cancer at the age of 41, calls out President Trump for his callous attacks on the press.
(3) Matrescence: A word meaning transition to motherhood, in the same way that adolescence means transition to adulthood. Both transitions are difficult due to hormonal changes, but, whereas adolescence has been studied extensively, there is much less work on matrescence, which is often mistaken for postpartum depression. An excellent 6-minute TED talk!
(4) Fake news from Saudi Arabia: With nearly 7000 people killed and more than 10,000 injured in Yemen, the Saudis have the audacity to maintain that they helped "alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people."
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- "Saturday Night Live" will re-air its John McCain episode tonight. I've heard it's really funny!
- Spot-on observation on the weirdness of waking up in the middle of the night to tweet in all caps. [Meme]
- Some answers about how our internal clocks perceive and keep time.
- Persian poetry: An exquisite love poem from Sa'adi.
- Persian music: wonderful violin performance on the street.
- The dance tune from "Zorba the Greek" performed with tar, a traditional musical instrument from Iran.
(6) Bald lie: "The president asked me to be here on behalf of a grateful nation, to pay a debt of honor and respect to a man who served our country throughout his life, in uniform and in public office." ~ VP Mike Pence
(7) Iranian politician Mir-Hossein Mousavi, after 8 years of living under house arrest and before it: Eight years of effective imprisonment, with no trial or even charges. [Photos]
(8) Quote: "We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness. The real thing — not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly." ~ Meghan McCain (John's daughter)

2018/08/30 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Pizzeria augments the 'table' at the center of pizza boxes with chairs! Princess Esmat al-Dowleh, daughter of Nasar al-Din Shah Qajar, in a photo taken by her husband in the late 1800s The stain on Senator John McCain's legacy (1) Some interesting images: [Left] Pizzeria augments the "table" at the center of pizza boxes with chairs! [Center] It is often said that Iranian women are beautiful. I agree, but standards of beauty change over time. This image shows Princess Esmat al-Dowleh [1855/6-1905], daughter of Nasar al-Din Shah Qajar, in a photo taken by her husband in the late 1800s. [Right] The stain on Senator John McCain's legacy.
(2) National University of Singapore students demonstrate a quadcopter drone that is fully powered by the sun. This Wired article, which includes a video, stipulates on the size and weight scalability of the concept.
(3) Climate change: Miami's water-drainage canals, which help with getting rid of rainwater from its very flat surface, constitute the world's most-complex water management system. But it only takes a few feet of sea-level rise to overwhelm the system and put Miami under water.
(4) Forget supersonic and hypersonic planes: Airlines and airplane manufacturers are working on 20-hour flights, featuring on-board gyms, beds, and other amenities.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- VP Mike Pence tweets wistfully about "a more respectful time" and is called out for his hypocrisy. [Tweet]
- Trump wanted to buy decades of "dirt" that National Enquirer had on him.
- "Will the last GOP statesman out of the Congress please turn off the light?" [Cartoon about John McCain]
- Some customers of In-n-Out cannot stomach the fast-food chain's donation to California Republicans.
- UCSB upperclassmen scare the already-terrified freshmen in the campus student newspaper.
- Informative maps that show how land is used in the continental United States.
- Nostalgia: Ads for products and services, from Iranian print media of yore. Dates are unspecified.
(6) Human Error in Computer Systems: This is the title of a 1983 book by Robert W. Bailey, which I have used as a reference for my graduate-level course on fault-tolerant computing.
Hand-printing errors, which arose when manually-written texts and filled-out forms were keyed in by operators, are no longer common with today's technology, but examining this table from Appendix A (p. 123), listing error rates in interpreting hand-printed English alphanumeric characters, is instructive nonetheless, particularly as it provides us with a sense of the even greater error-proneness of the Persian script.
The least error-prone alphanumeric symbols, with error rates of less than 1%, are: W, M, 3, 7, A, 9, E, C.
Near the high end of the error spectrum, with error rates of around 5%, are: N, 0, 5, J, V, G.
Particularly error-prone are the letters Z (13%) and I (25%).
The book's Appendix B (pp. 124-126) discusses methods of quantifying readability.

2018/08/29 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meeting with FIFA President, Trump was gifted a set of referee cards and immediately issued a red card to the media (1) Meeting with FIFA President about the 2026 World Cup in North America, Trump was gifted a set of referee cards and immediately issued a red card to the media. Robert Mueller reportedly has a set of the same cards!
(2) Tweets, sermons, speeches, they are all being archived and will be used as evidence: Apparently, an attorney representing the US in the international tribunal to which Iran has taken a complaint about the unfairness and debilitating effects of US sanctions, has introduced as evidence a part of a sermon/speech by Supreme Leader Khamenei, in which he mused that the economic chaos in the country is not due to sanctions but internal mismanagement.
(3) [For map lovers] Free to AAA members via local branches: A collection of historical maps, with the first in the series being a 1930 map of Metropolitan Los Angeles.
(4) Are college librarians entitled to academic freedom? The question was put to test during negotiations between UC administration and UC-AFT (American Federation of Teachers), with the former arguing that academic freedom pertains only to faculty members and students in classroom settings and the latter favoring extension of the privilege to librarians, who are already considered academic employees. Such an extension seems reasonable in my view, given that, in choosing books and journal holdings, librarians need to exercise independent judgment, without pressure from outside groups. [Faculty Associations' letter of support]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California becomes the first major US state to mandate carbon-free electricity generation by 2045.
- Hyperpolyglots, people who speak dozens of languages, provide insights into learning and brain function.
- A fun place to visit: Museum of Illusions, 6751 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles. (Also, in SF)
- Imprisonment of political dissenters continues in Iran: Facebook post about Roya Saghiri.
- Iranian folk music: A song from the western Iranian province of Lorestan.
- Persian poetry: A poem by Mahasti Ganjavi, a female poet who lived nine centuries ago. [Read]
(6) Sexism in US Tennis: Female tennis player was charged with a violation for flipping her shirt, which she had been wearing backwards, whereas male players go bare-chested all the time with no fines.
(7) No, months that have 5 Sundays, 5 Mondays, and 5 Tuesdays aren't rare or very special: Claims such as this one pop up on social media quite frequently. So, here I try to dispel one such myth. Any 31-day month has five instances of its first three days of the week (on the dates 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 for the first one, 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 for the second one, and 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 for the third one). On average, one in every 7 months begins on a Sunday. Given that there are seven 31-day months in every year, one should expect a month with 5 Sundays, 5 Mondays, and 5 Tuesdays to occur once per year on average.

2018/08/28 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine covers over the past few months, telling the story of Trump in a storm of his own making (1) Time magazine covers over the past few months, telling the story of Trump in a storm of his own making.
(2) Trump's hollow comments on Jacksonville mass shooting, coming after a long delay: "That was a terrible thing, indeed, and how it happens, nobody really knows. But they've done an incredible job down in Jacksonville as they always do in Florida, and throughout the country, but — condolences."
(3) All crooks cry "witch hunt" when exposed: In 2002, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Pope Francis' right-hand man and closest adviser, characterized media reports of abuse by Catholic priests as "witch hunts." [Source: Time magazine] [Uncredited on-line photo of Maradiaga with Pope Francis]
(4) Quote: "We accept the moral obligation of Germany, in whose name terrible injustice was committed under the Nazis." ~ Heiko Maas, German FM, on the deportation from US of former Nazi guard Jaklw Palij
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Donald Trump's pettiness on full display over how he dealt with Senator John McCain's death.
- Crooks in the White House: Kushner companies fined for falsifying construction permits.
- Trump supporter Paris Dennard suspended by CNN for revelations about his record of sexual misconduct.
- Brazil may ditch democracy to elect its own version of Trump, "law and order" candidate Jair Bolsonaro.
- A woman who had tried everything for irritable bowel syndrome was cured by a placebo self-treatment.
- Lessons from Cyrus the Great on how to run a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society. [2-minute video]
- Iran's parliament refers President Rouhani to the judiciary over the mishandling of Iran's economic woes.
- "Hoghoogh-e Bashar" ("Bashar's rights") vs. "Hoghoogh-e bashar" ("Human rights"): Cartoon from 2013.
(6) This amazing 1-minute video of all NYT front pages since its initial publication in 1852 clearly shows how the front-page format has changed from exclusively textual to an increasing proportion of images.
(7) We have all heard about official flowers, birds, and fruit for states, but did you know that California also has a state dinosaur, Auggie? [Image]
(8) Wrong number, right person: A year ago, a man mistakenly sent a message to a woman he didn't know on WhatsApp. They went on their first date that night and got married three months later! [From: Time magazine]

2018/08/27 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Katherine Johnson, science pioneer of the 'Hidden Figures' fame, is celebrating her 100th birthday today Racism in Iran: A neighborhood in the southern city of Yazd puts up a sign to ban Afghans from entering Mevlana Museum (Rumi's tomb) in Konya, Turkey (1) Topical and interesting images: [Left] Katherine Johnson, science pioneer of the "Hidden Figures" fame, is celebrating her 100th birthday today. [Center] Racism in Iran: A neighborhood in the southern city of Yazd puts up a sign to ban Afghans from entering. [Right] Mevlana Museum (Rumi's tomb) in Konya, Turkey.
(2) Investing in research and development: R&D spending by the top ten countries in the world ranges from $480B (USA) to $40B (Russia). Iran appears near the southeast corner of this chart with $4B.
[P.S.: Per-capita spending stats would have been more useful.]
(3) Cyber border-walls: The national security challenge of the future does not come from people walking across physical borders but from hackers crossing cyber-boundaries.
(4) The reading brain: UCLA neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf, author of Reader, Come Home, is horrified by what has happened to her ability to concentrate in the age of electronic communication and e-readers.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- France joins Germany in maintaining that Europe can no longer rely on the US for its security.
- The links between the men behind Brexit and the Trump Campaign. [NPR's "Fresh Air" podcast]
- Instead of shielding students, SoE Betsy DeVos has chosen to protect friends operating for-profit colleges.
- Persian-language tweet of the day: Calling for civility in social-media interactions.
- College diploma at 105: Now go and update your LinkedIn profile, young man!
- Iranian diva Googoosh's full concert at Hollywood Bowl (May 12, 2018). [114-minute video]
(6) On the power of regulations: "Facebook's conduct with Cambridge Analytica was illegal in the U.K. and punished. The same conduct was only 'irresponsible' in the U.S. with no legal consequences, and nothing to prevent it happening again." ~ Communications of the ACM Editor-in-Chief Andrew A. Chien, writing in the September 2018 issue of the ACM publication
(7) Architecture for neural-network processing assist: This image shows the block diagram and chip area allocation for a domain-specific architecture to significantly speed up the processing functions needed for deep neural networks. [Source: Communications of the ACM, Vol. 61, No. 9, September 2018, pp. 50-59]
(8) "RBG: Hero, Icon, Dissenter": This critically acclaimed CNN-produced film, which I enjoyed at a theater a couple of months ago, is set for TV broadcast on Monday, September 3 (CNN, 6:00 and 9:00 PM PDT).
(9) [Final thought for the day] The late Senator John McCain's wishes for his funeral include speeches by former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (both having defeated him in elections) and explicit instructions that Donald Trump not be invited to attend.

2018/08/26 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Colorful flowers, in 4 panels Logical reasoning puzzle: Which of the three options at the bottom belongs where we have a question mark? A kindergarten in Helsinki, Finland, 1890 (1) Some interesting images: [Left] Colorful flowers. [Center] Logical reasoning puzzle: Which of the three options at the bottom belongs where we have a question mark? [Right] A kindergarten in Helsinki, 1890.
(2) Leaking of phone numbers almost as bad as SSNs: Identity thieves can easily integrate data from multiple database breaches, because all databases contain phone numbers.
(3) "If You Could Read My Mind": Guitarist Pavlov plays a Mediterranean fusion version of the oldie classic. (Song starts at the 1:56 mark of this video.) [Post inspired by a PBS concert I watched on KCET last night.]
(4) Multiple deaths and injuries reported for the magnitude-6.0 quake in the western Iranian city of Kermanshah. The devastated region has been shaking continuously over the past few months.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona dead at 81, a day after ceasing treatment for cancer.
- Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon dead at 91.
- Hawaii grapples with Hurricane Lane. [Pictorial]
- The go-to button is again pressed for Jacksonville shooting victims and the matter will soon be forgotten.
- NotPetya: The fast-spreading Russian malware behind the most-devastating cyber-attack ever.
- Venmo: The default public setting of all transactions, which few bother to change, creates many risks.
- Iran's Finance Minister Masoud Karbasian impeached by the parliament amid economic woes.
- Miye, the matriarch of my son's Aikido school in Goleta, celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday.
(6) Trump expresses sympathies and respect to McCain's family, without praising the man himself: "My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!"
(7) John McCain was a hero and a decent man, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that by giving voice to Sarah Palin and her ilk, he unleashed the Trump monster!
(8) College soccer: In its second match of the season, the UCSB Men's soccer team took on UC Riverside this evening. The final score was UCSB 3-1 UCR, with UCSB scoring in minutes 38, 56, and 90, and UCR scoring on a defensive mix-up in minute 85. By the way, we Gauchos are excited that this year's College Cup (the final-four tournament of college soccer) will be held here at Harder Stadium on December 7 and 9, 2018.

Cover image for the book 'Homo Deus' 2018/08/25 (Saturday): Book review: Harari, Yuval Noah, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Derek Perkins, Harper Audio, 2017. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book complements Harari's 2017 book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which I have reviewed before on GoodReads and elsewhere. In Sapiens, Harari took an expansive look at human history, not just spanning a few millenia for which we have written historical records of human development and the rise and fall of empires, but beginning with our genetic ancestors and ending with how the human species is changing as we speak.
In Homo Deus, Harari, professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presents an account of how our species came to dominate the Earth, wiping out many other species, including competing human species (such as Neanderthals), and changing the world around us, to the extent that nothing resembles its natural state. My first exposure to this new book was through an engaging UCSB lecture by its author on February 27, 2017.
The theme of Homo Deus is that we are moving from the two previous stages of authority in human societies, that is, theism (listen to the Bible or some other holy book) and the more-recent humanism (listen to your feelings or inner voice), to what he calls dataism (listen to the data, that is, to Google and Amazon). In other words, authority is now shifting from human beings to algorithms, which are, or can be, much more accurate in arriving at correct decisions.
Presently, human feelings are the supreme source of authority, as reflected in the sayings "customer is always right," "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," and "if it feels good, do it!" And this kind of humanistic thinking permeates every facet of our lives, be it economics, aesthetics, education, ethics, and so on. The main threat to this humanistic view is emerging from laboratories, where scientists are becoming convinced that feelings are nothing but biochemical algorithms.
Humanism is based in large parts on the notion of free will, which is facing increasing skepticism. The day isn't far when Google or Amazon know you better than you do yourself. This supremacy of data is already a reality in medicine, where genes can predict future ailments, even though the patient "feels" perfectly fine. Today, we are in the process of completing the hacking of human brain. It is possible that we reach the conclusion that the brain isn't the mind or that we can stop the march of technology, which is, after all, not deterministic, but there is an immense momentum in the direction of algorithms taking over our lives.
Algorithms that are smarter and more capable than us humans may someday discard us, and our biochemical existence, as a mere nuisance. In a way, such algorithms may look upon us the way we now look at pets and other animals. The Internet of all things will provide perfect information for all decisions, obviating the need for reliance on our subjective decision-making capability, which is ill-suited to the needs of today, having evolved for coping with challenges of life in the African savannah.
Technology has already weakened some human abilities. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had much more acute senses of taste and smell that helped them refrain from eating poisonous mushrooms, for example. They were also better at interpreting environmental cues, because their survival depended on these abilities. Now, you buy your food at the supermarket and put it in your mouth, while watching TV or reading e-mail, barely tasting or smelling what you eat. Likewise, the day may come when we cannot navigate on our own and become totally dependent on Google Maps.
I end my review of Homo Deus with an interesting personal story Harari told during his lecture at UCSB: Jerusalem is a hotbed of chaos and conflict. However, there is one day each year when Jews, Muslims, and Christians come together and chant the same slogans in condemning the annual Gay Pride Parade!

2018/08/24 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet. Montmartre, Paris, 1952
Night fishing in Hawaii, 1948 Location of Shockley Lab, where the first silicon devices were fabricated (391 San Antonio Rd., Mountain View, CA), marked by IEEE as the birthplace of Silicon Valley (1) History in pictures: [Left] Montmartre, Paris, 1952. [Center] Night fishing in Hawaii, 1948. [Right] Location of Shockley Lab, where the first silicon devices were fabricated (391 San Antonio Rd., Mountain View, CA), marked by IEEE as the birthplace of Silicon Valley.
(2) Trump continues to hit his favorite punching bag: I am beginning to think that perhaps Jeff Sessions, by not resigning after much indignity, is making sacrifices to save our country from Trump. Ditto for John Kelly.
(3) The stock market continues to thrive, despite worsening legal troubles for Trump: Investors are essentially saying, "Tell me something I don't know, or at least I didn't expect." And this is why big-investor-supported Republicans might never turn on Trump.
(4) Part of the new Republican platform on sanctity of marriage: Marriage is between a man, a woman, a few mistresses, and a porn star or two thrown in for good measure.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Hurricane Lane (now category 4) is the closest a category-5 storm has ever gotten to Hawaii.
- Trump attacks one felon (Michael Cohen) while smothering lavish praise on another (Paul Manafort).
- A reminder that the trend of declining unemployment rate dates back to 2012. [Chart]
- Don't want Google to track you? Well, tough luck: You have no choice, especially if you use Android.
- Growing and harvesting walnuts in Australia. [4-minute video]
- Kabob, Iranian style: For your viewing pleasure, as dinner hour approaches [1-minute video]
(6) The US President communicates (if you can call this communication) with his Attorney General via Twitter: He has no understanding of the fact that justice does not care about this side and the other side. Judges, prosecutors, and juries can have any party affiliation, without affecting their work. There is no law that requires a Republican to be investigated or prosecuted by a Republican. [Tweet]
(7) Republicans flip-flop on Jeff Sessions and his potential firing: Rather then abandoning Trump, now that they realize he is a crook, several Republicans have rallied to his support. Here is what Senator Lindsey Graham had said about the possible firing of Sessions: "I'm 100% behind Jeff Sessions. If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay." And here is Graham's most recent musing about the matter: "The President's entitled to having an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that is qualified for the job and I think there will come a time sooner rather than later where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice. Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn't have the confidence of the President."
(8) My daughter and I went for an evening walk on UCSB's West Campus beach and got soaked when we made a run to reach the stairs, as decent-sized waves came crashing in!
(9) College soccer: After an impressive 7-0 win in an exhibition game against cross-town rival Westmont, the UCSB Gauchos Men's soccer team faced St. John's of New York in its season opener tonight. UCSB won the match 2-0, scoring on a header from a cross coming for the left and on an unassisted fast-break goal.

2018/08/23 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The latest title in 'The Little Golden Book' educational series for children Trump Tower in a prison compound Offering free gas to customers, without any real possibility of losing money (1) A collection of funny images: [Left] The latest title in 'The Little Golden Book' educational series for kids. [Center] Prison compound. [Right] Offering free gas to customers, without any real possibility of losing money.
(2) Quote of the day: "Men cannot control themselves ... so all of society has to adapt." ~ Gwendoline Goipeault, activist at Femmes Solidaires, on open-air urinals installed around Paris (This quote can be re-used for mandatory hijab laws in Iran and elsewhere.)
(3) The woman who was transformed in two decades from the belle of the progressive SF Bay Area (wife of Mayor Gavin Newsom) to the princess of MAGA-land (new love interest of Donald Trump Jr.).
(4) Michael Cohen has deleted this December 19, 2015, tweet aimed at Hillary Clinton: "When you go to prison for defrauding America and perjury, your room and board will be free!"
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Here's what "the failing NYT" has to say about Michael Cohen's allegations and plea deal on its front page.
- Can you believe Trump supporters are still chanting "Lock Her Up," as close Trump advisers face jail time?
- Heroic rescue efforts in Kerala, India, after the region's historic floods.
- Missing-person case solved: Undocumented immigrant charged with the murder of Iowa jogger.
- How smart air-conditioners and water-heaters can be hijacked to bring the power grid down.
- Hundreds of Facebook accounts linked to Iran's global disinformation campaign shut down.
- Saudi Arabia set to